The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Arlington Public Schools parents Amina Luqman-Dawson and Robert Dawson, following the publication of our article, Group of Black Parents Say Racial Disparities in Arlington Schools Need to End.
For parents with black children in Arlington Public Schools, hope and wariness accompanies the experience. Like other families, we have hopeful expectations about our community’s excellent schools. We read the headlines. APS Named Top School System in Virginia for the second year in a row. Four of our high schools are ranked in the top 2% of schools nationwide. We hope our children will also be beneficiaries of that excellence. Yet, the data tells a different story. It tells a tale of (at least) two school systems in one County. One which offers countless advantages to white children, the other which offers far less to black children.
The tale unfolds in APS’s own published data recently compiled by Black Parents of Arlington. In one story, a white child enters APS, and from the first years in school, that child has a one in four chance of being identified as gifted. By middle school that child has a 46% chance of being of being labeled gifted. 46%! That “gifted” child will be, at times, clustered with other “gifted” students, and will ultimately end up in higher-level classes which are disproportionately white. Just as the white child’s high intelligence will be presumed, that child’s innocence will also be presumed, with a far lower likelihood of being suspended than their black and Latinx counterparts.
For instance, at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, despite a 32% white population, white students account for only 9% of suspensions, and at Yorktown High School, despite a 65% white population, white students constitute only 28% of suspensions. In their course work, the white child has about a 90% chance of taking at least one AP/IB course and around an 80% chance of passing at least one AP/IB exam. The white child will almost certainly graduate on-time, but more importantly, has around an 80% chance of graduating with an advanced diploma, best suited when applying to competitive colleges and universities. For white students, the tale of APS is often a great one.
In contrast, the APS tale is quite different for a black child. It begins in elementary school, where a black child has only a 12% chance of being identified as gifted. By the time that child reaches middle school, it rises to 21%. As the child’s gifted identification is lower than the white child, her/his presumption of guilt is far higher. For example, in suspensions at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, despite a black population of 17%, black children received 82% of suspensions. At Washington and Liberty High School, despite a 9% black population, black children constituted 43% of suspensions. APS data only reflects the most punitive sanction, suspension.
We still don’t know about disproportionate uses of other disciplinary measures, such as detention, in-class and in-school sanctions that disrupt a child’s learning and define how black children see themselves. In their course work, about 62% of black students will take at least one AP/IB course. However, a black child has only a 30% chance of passing one of those course exams. Is it any wonder; after they’ve been over disciplined and under educated relative to their white counterparts? Although it’s highly likely a black child will graduate on-time, it’s not likely that child will leave APS with an advanced diploma. Only 46% of black children graduate with an advanced diploma. The tale of APS for black students isn’t quite as bright.
The data also shows that prospects for black students may differ depending on the APS schools they attend. For the past two reporting years, SOL disparities in math and reading between black and white students are relatively small (a 0 to 10-point difference) in some elementary schools, including Arlington Traditional, Long Branch, Randolph, Campbell, Carlin Springs and Arlington Science.
In a couple of instances, black student pass rates exceeded those of their white counterparts. More data and investigation are needed to learn about what makes these schools/circumstances different. Are there replicable models? Pass rates for black students in AP/IB courses are low. Are they equally low among all APS high schools? Are there differences that could shed light on improving the outcomes for all? Let’s do the work.
There are likely more than two tales in APS. Latino students and students with special needs have their own tales. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that solving these entrenched inequities will be easy. APS must be thoughtful and employ research-based methods in formulating solutions.
APS’s newest hope is the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position. Has APS done its homework and searched out models and best practices around the nation for establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer? Are we in conversation with other school districts? Even a rudimentary investigation shows that the position can be serious, resourced with staff and empowered, or it can be window dressing to add to a list of things a district is “doing” to address disparities. Are we going to be serious about creating change or settle for the impression of it?
Some readers may look at the data and assess blame on the same black families who have noted these racial inequities, blaming our “culture” or a perceived lack of interest, while implying conversely that the disproportionately higher outcomes for white students are the result of the values and extraordinary abilities of white families, as if somehow APS, with its tremendous resources, does not play a significant role in tilting the scale. If you are such a reader, you are not our audience.
However, if you are an Arlingtonian of goodwill who understands that historical and systemic racial bias seeps into almost every facet of our society, from housing to healthcare, and that our schools are not immune to that reality – even in liberal Arlington. We seek a conversation with you.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.
I-395 Ramp Closure — “Beginning at 5 a.m. Friday, Dec. 1, weather permitting, the ramp from southbound I-395 to eastbound Boundary Channel Drive (Exit 9/Clark Street) and the eastbound Boundary…
Fully updated; remodeled Bas; open family room w/vaulted ceiling; 1-car garage
Good Thursday evening, Arlington. Let’s take a look back at today’s stories and a look forward to tomorrow’s event calendar. 🕗 News recap The following articles were published earlier today…
A look at the smallest and largest homes sold in Arlington last month, October 2023.
Children’s Weekday Program (CWP) is a non-profit preschool rooted in a play-based philosophy. We focus on developing a love of learning and exploration, cooperation, empathy, and independence.
Our caring and experienced educators create opportunities for children 16 months to 5 years old to play, learn, and grow in a nurturing environment of child-centered and developmentally appropriate experiences.
Initially established more than 50 years ago in South Arlington, CWP continues to be a lauded program in the Northern Virginia area. We are extremely proud to have been recognized as a Best Preschool in Northern Virginia Magazine for the last 4 years.
Located now in North Arlington at 2666 Military Road, CWP offers a part-time parents day out and preschool program with options to extend care both before and after school. We offer a supportive and inclusive school community for children and parents alike and welcome all families to join our school!
The Optimist Club of Arlington is holding its 77th annual Christmas tree sale!
This year, the tree sale will be held at the Knights of Columbus (5115 Little Falls Road). The lot opens for sales on November 24th. The Optimist Club is selling small and large trees ranging from tabletop size to 10 foot tall trees! Wreaths, garland, tree stands, and White House Christmas ornaments will also be for sale.
100% of all proceeds go towards helping Arlington County youth.
For more information, please visit the Arlington Optimists website at https://optimistclubofarlingtonva.org/.
Holiday Art Show featuring artists: Peter Fitzgerald, Claire Plante, Alanna Rivera, and Suzy Scollon. At the Barcroft Community House, 800 South Buchanan St., Arlington, VA. Dec. 8 from, 2 PM to 8 PM and Dec. 9 from 10 AM to
2023 Christmas Tree Sales Begin
Saturday, December 2
Get your holiday decorating off to the right start this year! We will be selling 150 Fraser firs, freshly cut and delivered from Sparta, North Carolina.