The first two-day Summit on the Education of African American Students in DISD this past weekend got people thinking and talking about one of the most pressing issues, but the real challenge will be what comes out of that conversation, say those who attended.
“It’s always a great exercise to have a discussion about education, and it’s always a great exercise to talk about the inequities, but to me what’s most important is the action,” says Sherasa Thomas, a former teacher who now works as an education consultant for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Thomas said having a discussion about how black students are faring in school and why they aren’t doing as well as their counterparts is nothing new. She wants participants to take it a step further.
“I think people’s actions will speak greater than armchair philosophizing,” she added.
What happens next is exactly what Roscoe Smith, chairman of the Dallas-based Coalition for an Accountable System of Education, says the group will discuss Thursday when it meets to evaluate the summit. He said the free event, which was held at Friendship West Baptist Church, drew about 300 people.
Now, they must pour over evaluation sheets and discuss the concerns parents, educators and other attendees touched on.
“We have to get a feel for how we can motivate African American students to do well on tests and in school every day,” Smith says. “They [attendees] brought up a lot of reasons why they weren’t doing well.”
One of the reasons cited – that minority students don’t see themselves in the curriculum they’re learning.
DISD Superintendent Mike Miles, one of the first speakers Friday night, did not hold back in challenging his audience. He talked about how incremental change or improvement among students was not enough.
To illustrate his points, Miles showed attendees a scene from the movie Coach Carter. In it, Coach Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson, tells a group of students on the basketball team that some of them haven’t upheld their end of a contract and as a result all of them – including Coach Carter – have failed each other.
“Know that we are a team, and until we all meet the terms of the contract, the gym will remain locked,” Coach Carter tells his students much to their dismay.
Miles told participants to challenge their thoughts on why black students aren't performing better academically.
“Are we gonna get uncomfortable?” he asked them. If not, he said the conference would not be a success.