School district uses segregation to close the achievement gap between African-American and white students
In an effort to ensure racial diversity, the school system here in northern Westchester County is set up in an unusual way, its six school buildings divided not by neighborhood but by grade level. So all of the second and third graders in the Ossining Union Free School District attend the Brookside School.
But some minority students, the black boys at Brookside, are set apart, in a way, by a special mentoring program that pairs them with black teachers for one-on-one guidance outside class, extra homework help, and cultural activities during the school day. “All the black boys used to end up in the office, so we had to do something,” said Lorraine Richardson, a second-grade teacher and mentor. “We wanted to teach them to help each other” instead of fight each other.
While many school districts have long worked to close the achievement gap between minority and white students, Ossining’s programs aimed to get black male students to college are a new frontier.
Ossining school officials said they were not singling out black boys, but after a district analysis of high school students’ grade-point averages revealed that black boys were performing far worse than any other group, they decided to act. In contrast, these officials said, the performance of black girls compared favorably with other students and did not warrant the same concern.
The district calls it a “moral imperative,” and administrators and teachers say their top priority is improving the academic performance of black male students, who account for less than 10 percent of the district’s 4,200 students but disproportionately and consistently rank at the bottom in grades and test scores. The programs are voluntary, school officials said, and some students choose not to take part.
The special efforts for Ossining’s black male students began in 2005 with a college-preparatory program for high schoolers and, starting last month, now stretch all the way to kindergarten, with 5-year-olds going on field trips to the American Museum of Natural History and Knicks and Mets games to practice counting.
Ossining’s unusual programs for black boys have drawn the attention of educators across the country as school districts in diversifying suburbs are coming under new pressure to address what many see as a seemingly intractable racial divide with no obvious solution.
The federal No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that test scores be analyzed for each racial group has over the past decade spotlighted the achievement gap even in predominantly white suburban districts.