The Absolutely-Without-A-Doubt-Single-Most Embarassing Thing About Oak Park

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By Rob Breymaier

Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center

Below is a chart that the Wednesday Journal first printed about two months ago. It is a table of student achievement on the Prairie State Achievement Exam. It is the most embarrassing thing in our community.

Group Reading Math Average
All Students 72.4 68.2 70.3
White 89.1 87.2 88.2
Multiracial 71.2 72.9 72.1
Hispanic 73 65.5 69.3
Special Education 48.3 41 44.7
Low-Income 46 38 42
Black 45.7 38.1 41.9

Regardless of how you feel about NCLB, we as a community need to do better. Of course, this gap isn't solely the responsibility of the high school. There is responsibility from all sorts of places from District 97 to early childhood providers to parents and, yes, to all of us who care about equal opportunity.

It's a problem that has been with us for far too long. It's a problem people have tried to tackle many times. But, even if we weren't as successful as we hoped for in previous attempts, we must work on it again. We must do something to change the status quo that is essentially a dual track school.

There is good momentum in different efforts here in Oak Park. The Collaboration for Early childhood is strengthening the community's approach to early childhood education. The Community Foundation is trying to find a way to help organizations and the school districts meet the needs of children and families in the community. And, there are others doing wonderful things like the OPRF alumni group headed by Bobbie Raymond and PTOs and I'm sure other efforts I'm unaware of.

But, we all have to ask ourselves, in a community with such a rich set of opportunities. With two school systems that have so much to offer our kids. And, with our historic commitment to diversity and equity, how can our kids be achieving at such dramatically different levels?

I'm not an organizer, but in organizing circles you'll hear time and again that the only thing that motivates anyone is their own self-interest. In the six years I've been living and working here, I hear a lot of concern but I don't hear a lot about how people believe fixing the achievement gaps is in their self-interest. And, consequently, I think that, despite the consistent talk about it, most of us consider the achievement gap someone else's problem.

Well, I'm here to tell you that the achievement gap is my problem and your problem and everyone's problem. Not only are we failing to live up to our values. The achievement gap is threatening our desirability as a community and it is reducing the value of our children's education.  It is in your self-interest to fix it as soon as possible and as best as possible.

Let's think about what a difference it would make in our children's education to reduce and eliminate the gap. Certainly it would result in higher test scores, sending OPRF back toward the top of the school rankings. And, in fact, it is the only way we will ever get the school back to the top. We're not going to see scores increase unless we increase the lower scores. That is where the progress is to be made. Want your kid to go to the Ivy League or U of C? It's a heck of a lot more impressive to graduate from a school in the top 5 or 10 than from a school lower down.

It will also improve the learning environment for our children. Imagine classrooms where everyone engages; where critical thinking, creativity, and enthusiasm are the norm. That is a classroom without an achievement gap. And, that is a classroom that is going to prepare your child much better for college or any other direction that your child pursues after high school.

We have a school full of wonderful opportunities. We have a community full of wonderful people. We can be the change we hope to see. We can ensure all of our children reap the benefits of attending OPRF. It will require commitment of time and energy but I know it will be worth it.

Who's going to join me?!

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