Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.
The curriculum would keep state-required core subjects such as reading, language arts and math but include the history and culture of Africans and African-Americans in daily school lessons.
But while parents and educators across the district of 6,755 pupils agree that the achievement gap has to be closed, some voiced concern at a school board committee meeting this week that the proposal could further segregate the schools in a district that prides itself on diversity.
Former school board member Terri Shepard, who now heads the curriculum panel for the African-American Student Achievement Committee, has monitored test scores for 20 years.
While 94 percent of white pupils in District 65 met or exceeded standards for 3rd-grade reading, only 47 percent of black pupils did, according to the latest Illinois State Achievement Tests. In 3rd-grade math, 96 percent of white pupils met or exceeded standards, and 69 percent of black pupils met standards.
“We all say we support diversity,” she said. “For that reason, we want all the kids sitting together. But the statistics show having all the kids in the same room has not benefited students of color. Why not give these kids a chance to thrive?”
Schools with culture-based curriculums have become popular in major cities where blacks are in the majority of the public school population, such as Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, Ajirotuto said.
When Shepard visited Woodlawn Community School, a Chicago public school, she was impressed that state test scores have climbed since 2001.
“I always believed the reason white children achieved is because everything was for and about them,” she said. “There was nothing that showed a child of color at the center. With an African-centered curriculum, the kids see themselves everywhere.”
Chante Latimore, who supports the proposal, said that when she asks her 5-year-old daughter what she learned in class that day, she gets the same answer: “Nothin’.”
Except during Black History Month in February, when Cheyenne Buford’s eyes open wide as she tells her mother about Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou. “Then she remembers everything she learns,” Latimore said.
She believes an African-centered curriculum would have that effect all year long.