As the only public high school in the city of Cambridge, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) is a place of marked diversity.
The school serves nearly 2,000 students and is one of the most ethnically diverse high schools in the state. But, concerns have arisen that students and faculty from minority backgrounds have different experiences at CRLS than their white peers and coworkers. There is also concern about the measured achievement gap at the school.
Recently, school data from the Department of Education revealed that there is an observed achievement gap between students of color and white students. Test scores and graduation rates are lower for black and latino students, and students from economically disadvantaged households.
These gaps are apparent in the current level score for CRLS. The state ranks schools on a leveled system with scores ranging from 1-5. Level 1 schools are making the most progress at narrowing their proficiency gaps, measured by student performance on MCAS tests. CRLS is currently a Level 2 school, meaning it is not meeting its gap narrowing goals.
These statistics have led to multiple routes of action, including a $295,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The district will use the funding to support the Building Equity Bridges project, a 13-month project “aimed at identifying and understanding historical and systemic structures that create stubborn gaps in college and career readiness between student groups.”
But, some argue that targeted college and career readiness programs aren’t enough to bridge the gap. Many students and faculty, including the recently resurrected Black Student Union, led by history teacher, Kevin Dua, are calling for the district to include hiring and retaining more educators of color as part of the plan.
What is the achievement gap?
An achievement gap is measured disparity in educational performance or attainment. Here are the spring 2017 MCAS test scores for white students vs. minority students:
As the data shows, white and Asian students score noticeably higher on the state’s standardized tests. The most failing and “needs improvement” scores are seen within marginalized populations—black and latino students, high needs students, and students from economically disadvantaged households. Data for graduation rates show a similar trend:
The $295,000 grant funding the Building Equity Bridges project will be used to address these disparities. The project will also aim to address racial barriers.
What are the demographics at CRLS?
To further examine this issue, we look at the student and educator demographics. CRLS is a minority-majority school, with students identifying as non-Hispanic white making up less than 50 percent of the student body:
When examining the staffing data, the demographics don’t align with those of the student body:
Addressing the achievement gap and racial climate
In December 2017, the Black Student Union at CRLS produced a video titled Cambridge’s Minority Reports, documented alleged incidents of racial microaggressions and racially-charged incidents that occurred at the school. The video received a lot of attention- some positive, some negative.
These types of experiences are can what make learning challenging for students of color, said Kevin Dua, a history teacher at CRLS and the advisor of the newly reformed Black Student Union, in an email. Having educators that look like them and can assist in “tackling various aspects of educational inequities.”
“From attendance, higher level course enrollments, social interactions, cultural respectfulness and responsiveness—the influence of Black teachers can instill such consciousness for students and teachers, of any background,” said Dua.
This is one of the ongoing goals of the Black Student Union. They produced a second installment of the Minority Reports in late January, challenging educators at CRLS to actively acknowledge and work toward changing the climate at the school.
“Studies, reports, polls, and even many institutions can advocate that such influx of educators of color within an academic environment can, and will, do wonders for a community. And the effort currently in motion, especially with the led efforts of Ramon De Jesus—newly hired Program Manager for Diversity Development for Cambridge Public Schools—shows that, on a district level, wheels are spinning in the right motion on hiring and retaining,” said Dua.
The momentum from the first two Minority Reports has led to many upcoming plans for the group. They plan to launch their own news website, The Volume, inspired by the 1970s Black Panther Party newspaper. The Black Student Union also has plans to launch its third installment of the Minority Reports in the coming weeks. NPR also plans to interview the students about their groundbreaking work, according to Dua.
Dua hopes they can be active proponents of change and part of the action team working on the Building Equity Bridges project, and continue their mission of creating a more representative space for themselves and the many students to come.
“The work from these students highlights climates that are prevalent in many academic settings, and efforts that are seemingly evident to progress. Without question, this organization has brought awareness centered on bettering a more inclusive, spirited space,” said Dua.