When I told people I was working on this special, one hour show about race, a lot of the reactions were along the lines of “race…hmm….interesting.” Like, man, I’m glad I don’t have your job. That’s cause the topic of race is fraught; people hear it and they run for their hills.
One place where parents and teachers are talking about race in the classroom is Birmingham, MI. Birmingham is pretty much as white a city as they come, with a median household income around $100,000. Espresso bars and high end restaurants and shops line the streets downtown, and there’s a four star hotel where out of town celebrities stay whenever they visit metro Detroit.
From the looks of it, Birmingham has it all. But dig a little deeper, and Birmingham has a problem.
Gap #1: Achievement
Jason Clinkscale is the principal at Berkshire Middle School in Birmingham. He says when it comes to student performance on standardized tests, "the achievement gap is alive and well" in his district.
We're not talking about some 5 or 10 point difference here. The achievement gap in the Birmingham district translates to a nearly 30 point difference in proficiency in math at the middle school level between white and black students. By the time those students reach 11th grade, the math gap is more than 50 points wide.
Clinkscale is an African American with two daughters of his own. He uses words like "sobering" and "frustrating" to describe the achievement gap. And the gap isn’t just on paper. You can see it play out from classroom to classroom: minorities are over-represented in lower level classes and underrepresented in honors and advanced classes.