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Race, education and democracy: Closing the achievement gap

CBurrisColor.jpgWhat if we told you there are schools where all of the Black, Latino and low-income students are enrolled in an honors curriculum? What if we told you there was a school where all 11th graders are enrolled in International Baccalaureate English?

Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York State, is coming to Simmons College as part of the Simmons College/Beacon Press Race, Education & Democracy Lecture and Book Series to share with educators her dramatic stories and data on closing the race achievement gap at her own school, where all students are provided with the highest-level of education.

We talked with Dr. Burris about the race achievement gap, why she publicly voiced her concerns about the education system to Education Secretary Arne Ducan, and her view that evaluating teachers based on test scores is the wrong way to increase student achievement.

Your high school is a success story because of its ability to close the achievement gap among students of various races and socioeconomic backgrounds. What do you attribute to the school's success?
The school's multiple-year detracking reform that resulted in the integration of classrooms while providing all students with a high-track curriculum.
You've been a vocal opponent of evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students. What is wrong with this practice?
The use of student test scores to evaluate teachers will work against equity reforms such as ours. Even as we encourage all students to take our International Baccalaureate courses, teachers will worry that students who struggle will bring down scores, thus affecting their evaluation number and their job. We know from research that putting students in challenging classes is the best strategy we can use to prepare them for college. Evaluating teachers by test scores, will, in my opinion, encourage tracking and other inequitable practices.
How do you reform schools and hold teachers accountable?
That is a VERY big question. Although there is no one perfect model of reform, I do think that the lecture and the book will provide a great road map for school improvement. Regarding the second question, every teacher in my school holds themselves accountable. That comes from the school culture coupled with good supervisory practices.  Without a positive, student-centered culture anchored in excellence and equity, no system of evaluation can work.
What can people look forward to for your lectures at Simmons?
A very different view of school reform. I will challenge their thinking about school structures and how they intersect with race and poverty. I will also, in lecture three, present the challenges that four other systems encountered as they implemented this reform.

Dr. Carol Burris was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Her lecture series, Detracking to Close the Opportunity/Achievement Gap: How Teachers, School and Community Leaders Can Join the 21st Century Struggle Against Separate and Unequal Education, will be held at Simmons College on March 31 and April 12. The lectures are free and open to the public.

For more information and to register, visit or call 617-521-2257.

You can follow Dr. Burris on Twitter @CarolBurris.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kalimah Redd Knight published on March 28, 2012 11:51 AM.

Simmons entrepreneur starts nonprofit to educate disabled children in Africa was the previous entry in this blog.

Day of Empowerment encourages women to lead positive lives is the next entry in this blog.

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