Theresa Harrington / EdSource
Students work on an assignment in a program aimed at improving African-American achievement in West Contra Costa Unified.
This story was updated at 2 a.m. Jan. 16 to reflect the board's discussion and action.

Fed up with a growing achievement gap between African American students and all others in a San Francisco Bay Area school district, a group of parents is declaring an “educational state of emergency” and demanding improvement.

“For years now, this district has not seen or served African American/black kids,” said Golddie Williams, whose daughter attends El Cerrito High in West Contra Costa Unified. “That all changes tonight. There is no more time for consideration. The time is now. It’s time they see us.” 

The parents, who are members of the district’s African American Site Advisory Team, presented their demands Wednesday night to a meeting of the district’s school board. The board unanimously approved the resolution presented by the group and agreed to implement all of its recommendations next year, which are expected to cost up to $7 million, by shifting money the district is currently spending on student programs to services that will better serve African-American students.

But Superintendent Matthew Duffy and associate superintendent for business services Tony Wold warned that the Contra Costa County Office of Education may reject the district’s budget with this new commitment, since the district has not yet identified what it would cut to free up the money for the new services. The district is already grappling with the need to close a deficit of up to $48 million next year.

Wold said the county may require the district to increase its projected deficit to nearly $54 million to reflect planned expenditures related to African-American student achievement. But Williams and more than a dozen other supporters of the African-American resolution said they didn’t want to wait two years to see them implemented.

“The district has stated that it’s a priority to address education gaps with African American students,” Williams said. “From a moral standpoint, this is what’s needed. This is a crisis.”

She is co-chair of the group, which demanded that West Contra Costa Unified improve its services for African American students in the district that includes Richmond and surrounding communities.

Data shows the achievement gap between African American students and others is growing in the district, where only about 20 percent of African American students met or exceeded English standards on statewide tests last year and a mere 10 percent met math standards. In contrast, about 61 percent of white students met the English standards and half met the math standards.

In both subject areas, African American student achievement has dropped over the past five years, while white student achievement has improved. In 2015, 21 percent of African American students met or exceeded English standards compared to 57 percent of white students, and 11 percent of African American students met or exceeded the math standards compared to 48 percent of white students.

“If we don’t change the expectations for the students from the teachers, the administrators, the parents — from everyone — nothing’s going to change,” Williams said. “The expectation has to be that this is unacceptable.”

The parents’ group asked the district to allocate $7.2 million to improve services for the district’s 5,000 African American students, including the creation of an office within the district to support the students and their families. The parents also asked that the district invest in small group tutoring and mentoring for African American students, and provide more culturally relevant curriculum, with a greater emphasis on African American history and culture in books and other instructional materials, field trips and assemblies. To do this, they recommended that the district evaluate what’s working and what’s not and eliminate programs or services that are not effective so it can redirect that money into services that would have better results.

The districtwide group’s meetings attract about 40 to 50 people and include representatives from school site African American Parent Committees, said Zelon Harrison, who also co-chairs the advisory team.

Due to fiscal constraints, Duffy and Wold originally presented the idea of waiting until 2022-23 to consider cuts of $7 million in some areas so it could redirect that money to fund the ideas presented by the African American parents. But board members unanimously rejected this idea, saying they wanted to ensure the district followed through on its promises immediately.

The plight of African American students lagging behind their peers statewide is also on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s radar. When he released his proposed 2020-21 budget last week, Newsom emphasized the fact that the achievement gap for African Americans and for students with disabilities is not closing statewide.

“If you overlay socio-economics with race, the scores are deplorable in contrast to what they should be and can be,” he said, contrasting this “bad news” with improvement by some other student groups. “We have to start getting serious, and do something about it.”

The district group’s resolution also called out the need to recruit, support and retain African American teachers. The district’s United Teachers of Richmond union also supported the resolution, along with the Richmond Branch of the NAACP and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who represents the Richmond area in the state Legislature.

“Every student has the capacity to thrive, but they can only meet their potential if we provide them the tools and opportunity to do so,” Wicks said in a statement. “It’s long past time we address these systemic opportunity and achievement gaps in West Contra Costa County, and I’m proud to support this resolution to support every child’s ability to learn and achieve.”

According to the state’s current school funding formula, districts receive additional money for students who are low-income, foster youth or English learners. But the state has not set aside any additional money specifically earmarked for African American studentsWilliams said her group calculated that 13.6 percent of the low-income students and foster youth in the district are African American, so they should benefit from that share of funds that the district receives. 

Newsom’s budget proposed additional money for teacher preparation programs, along with about $300 million to support the state’s lowest-achieving schools and districts. West Contra Costa is already working to redesign one such school — Stege Elementary in Richmond — which includes a high percentage of African American students. The board has also identified this as a budget priority, despite cuts that need to be made elsewhere.

Wold also said that legislation is being proposed that could earmark funding specifically for African-American students. If that legislation passes, he said West Contra Costa could be well-positioned to receive funding to assist in its commitment to provide better services to those students.

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

Share Article

Comments (6)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Jennifer Bestor 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is a case of devil take the hindmost. WCCUSD is under-funded by $28 million a year due to Sacramento's refusal to recognize regional cost of living in the statewide funding formula. Who suffers most from this? The children with the fewest external resources. The state school funding formula was supposed to account for inequity -- but the supplement for disadvantage is eaten up by local costs. Districts in Contra … Read More

    This is a case of devil take the hindmost. WCCUSD is under-funded by $28 million a year due to Sacramento’s refusal to recognize regional cost of living in the statewide funding formula. Who suffers most from this? The children with the fewest external resources.

    The state school funding formula was supposed to account for inequity — but the supplement for disadvantage is eaten up by local costs. Districts in Contra Costa and Alameda counties are dragging an invisble ball-and-chain behind them. Some can find the local resources to overcome it — the rest fall further and further behind.

    Don’t like that? Contact Tony Thurmond — now State Superintendent of Schools and prior member of the WCCUSD board. Contact your union leaders — make it clear that LAUSD isn’t the only district that matters and that this inequity is driving students into the arms of charters. Contact your local legislators and ask why they have never even introduced a bill to address this. (The total cost for the whole state would be less than $700 million from the General Fund. Most of the cost would be absorbed by “excess” educational revenue augmentation property taxes, currently exploding in the four most costly counties.) Otherwise, your kids are simply being used as poster children for whatever equity argument an academic or organizer wants to make.

  2. Sandra Davenport 1 month ago1 month ago

    This need has been here for many years. But now we have other minority concerns: how about the needs of our Hispanic students? It’s no coincidence that the Hispanic students feed into Richmond High School, the high school with the most needs and largest problems. How about them?

    Replies

    • Caleb Maldonado 1 month ago1 month ago

      I'm a mentor for Peacemakers Inc., at Helms middle school. I want to share this because I'm Latino and I've been hearing a lot that this is strictly for our AA community. On Wednesday night, many of our Latino communities came together in solidarity. That was a beautiful thing for me because it is time for us Black and Brown to come together because we are the only ones that truly represent a struggle. I … Read More

      I’m a mentor for Peacemakers Inc., at Helms middle school. I want to share this because I’m Latino and I’ve been hearing a lot that this is strictly for our AA community. On Wednesday night, many of our Latino communities came together in solidarity. That was a beautiful thing for me because it is time for us Black and Brown to come together because we are the only ones that truly represent a struggle. I know that once we have the ability to be at the table with other organizations that claim to be for our, “Hoods and Barrios,” we will be able to truly represent “our people”, “nuestra gente”.

  3. Rob Appeldorn 1 month ago1 month ago

    How does teaching black history to school children help them to learn math and Engilsh? Do the high performers in Contra Costra County schools get a personalized history lesson of their ethnic heritage? Is that why students of non-color do better? How can having personalized tutors for black kids guarantee they will do their homework? Not every student of any ethnicity can perform at the same academic level, everybody is different. Maybe it would be … Read More

    How does teaching black history to school children help them to learn math and Engilsh? Do the high performers in Contra Costra County schools get a personalized history lesson of their ethnic heritage? Is that why students of non-color do better? How can having personalized tutors for black kids guarantee they will do their homework? Not every student of any ethnicity can perform at the same academic level, everybody is different. Maybe it would be better to spend more money on identifying the talents of the students and help the students develop their talents.

    Replies

    • Caleb Maldonado 1 month ago1 month ago

      No one is talking about, just teaching AA history to black kids here. It’s about our community’s coming together and no longer allowing outsiders come into our communities telling us what’s good for our children.

  4. Edwin Javius 1 month ago1 month ago

    The urgency for educating Black students in California has always been there! I urge the district(s) to have a comprehensive 3 to 5 year plan drive the reform and not the money. Granted it takes funds to operationalize the plan. I hope we dont let the tail wag the dog. Money doesn't change results, a soild plan that is different/tighter than LCFF structure. Research on changing the outcomes for Black students is not … Read More

    The urgency for educating Black students in California has always been there! I urge the district(s) to have a comprehensive 3 to 5 year plan drive the reform and not the money.

    Granted it takes funds to operationalize the plan. I hope we dont let the tail wag the dog. Money doesn’t change results, a soild plan that is different/tighter than LCFF structure.

    Research on changing the outcomes for Black students is not a secret. We have to have the discipline, execution and reflection not to haphazardly “do something” as oppose to develop system,structures and accountability to hold the district and the leadership for implementing a cycle of continuous improvement targeted for Black students.

    Lastly districts, don’t assume your district culture is ready to shift its focus on Black students because of student achievement data. I urge the school leaders to “cultivate your district soil” for readiness to devote this type of time, resources and personnel to service OUR babies.

    How ever you hire, purchases and or inplemement as part of the plan, I would be steadfast, to ask “how will this…. impact leadership and teacher practice?” “What current system practices need to be eradicating that will prohibit a successful implementation of our plan?”

    It not wise to build a new house on a crack/uneven foundation.

    We in education, know too much not to solve this problem. Let’s be sure, the problem is not Black student underachievement, we need to explore, what type of systems, practices, mindset and professional learning is needed to improve adult performance in securing increased outcomes for Black students?

    District(s) do the “right thing” and not the ” first thing!”