Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

We should not be surprised a recent report shows the academic performance gap between Black and White students in the Charleston County School District (CCSD) is not getting smaller. What is surprising and troubling, however, is educators likely will keep trying the same recycled programs that have not worked for a majority of students of color.

This is not acceptable.

Charleston County public school students on average outperformed students statewide in English Language Arts (ELA) and math, according to South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Assessment scores. But wide proficiency gaps persist in math and English for Black students who lag behind their White peers.

This achievement gap seems to be baked into the way schools teach and no one seems to know how to change the district’s course. Money has been thrown at teachers when students show progress. While underpaid teachers need raises, financial incentives alone are not the single solution to this complicated problem. In addition, parents faced with daily life demands are encouraged to advocate for their children but that does not work either. Innovative courses challenge some students, but not all.

Perhaps instead of looking at this problem as an achievement gap, view it as an opportunity gap that exists nationwide. On the whole, Black students often are not getting the same opportunity to learn. For example, too many teachers who don’t look like Black students may not understand cultural, community and family backgrounds and differences to know how to best teach or understand them so they can thrive. LaTisha Vaughn, founding partner and chief programs officer of E3 Foundation, calls this opportunity gap for Black students a serious national civil rights issue. 

Recently, E3 Foundation partnered with five local community-based organizations to create opportunities for Black parents to have resources so they can successfully advocate for their children at school, at school board meetings and at the Statehouse. The goal is to help members of the Black community find their own solutions to the problem so Black parents are better equipped to overcome an educational system that is sometimes daunting and hard to understand.

Charleston County’s system needs to be revamped: from the curriculum and the way schools operate to the method of preparing teachers and the way teachers teach. Data nationwide show public schools are failing a majority of Black students. Let’s reverse that trend here.

Outside of the classroom, the school district is in trouble, too. All nine seats on the county school board are open in the November election. The new school board is guaranteed to have a lot of new members, draining the board of its institutional memory at a time when the district is also looking for a permanent superintendent. And if that is not enough, school board Chairman Eric Mack, who has served on the board since 2014, has withdrawn from the race, taking yet another veteran from the board. This creates the potential of too much instability that does not bode well for students and their families.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And what’s happening begs this question: Is the Charleston County School District insane if a new untested board and administrators expect substantial improvements for Black students without radical changes in the way they are taught? 

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