Policy Priorities

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Addressing the Achievement Gap Symposium

A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys For Educational Success

closing the gap

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state rankings

States that, when combined, have over 50 percent of the Black youth population:

1. New York
2. Florida
3. Texas
4. Georgia
5. Illinois
6. North Carolina
7. Louisiana
8. Ohio
9. Michigan

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The Children's Defense Fund in partnership with the Educational Testing Services (ETS) are hosting a series of ETS Addressing the Achievement Gap Symposiums focused on Black boys from birth to 24 years old. The first in the series, "A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys For Educational Success," was held in June 2011 and highlighted the latest research and best practices to address the challenges facing Black boys in their early years. Our second symposium in the series, Middle School Matters: Improving the Life Course of Black Boys, will be offered at our national conference, July 22-25, 2012.

Last year’s symposium concentrated on:

  • focusing attention on the challenges, needs and opportunities facing young Black boys within the larger picture of Black male achievement;
  • illuminating the connections between early cognitive and social/emotional development and later readiness for success in school;
  • examining the role of a high-quality, seamless PreK–3rd grade continuum of education in supporting black male achievement;
  • identifying promising, realistic policies and strategies to affect the path of the 3.5 million Black males under the age of 9.

The Condition of Young Black Boys in the United States

This opening session explored the circumstances that young Black males living in poverty must navigate on the road to educational success. Dr. Iheoma Iruka presented her analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the largest national study on young children, through gender and race. Findings pointed to early disparities between Black boys and other children of the same age with regard to schooling, social emotional development and learning behaviors. As early as nine months disparities are evident in cognitive and language development between Black boys and other groups with an even greater gap between poor Black boys and others studied. Dr. Oscar Barbarin explored the circumstances that young Black males must maneuver to overcome conditions related to race, gender and poverty. Conditions specific to family practices, community and school were explored with an eye toward them as both a problem and a solution. The session provided participants with a holistic understanding of the urgent needs and challenges facing Black boys and provided a foundation for the symposium’s subsequent discussions.

Cathy Grace, Children’s Defense Fund Watch Video »
Iheoma U. Iruka, UNC-Chapel Hill Watch Video »
Oscar A. Barbarin III, Tulane University Watch Video »

The Critical Early Years: Exploring Connections of Poverty and Early Brain Development and Academic Achievement

The chaotic context that many young Black males living in poverty must overcome as they develop, grow and learn undermines the critical development that is needed to support cognitive skills, development and ultimately academic achievement. Dr. Aisha Ray brought to light some of the unique challenges to Black boys that are exceedingly impactful regardless of the child’s income. She asked the audience to consider the challenges of race, class and gender in the context of brain development of young children. She also discussed the importance of a series of environmental factors that when missed can result in a child having significant problems in school and life. Rev. Anjohnette Gibbs discussed how a rural Mississippi town is supporting the needs of young, poor mothers during their pregnancy and in the first months and years of the baby’s life. Using highly trained paraprofessionals in the Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker (MIHOW) curriculum over 100 young mothers and mothers-to-be are provided with support, resources and information on positive parenting on a monthly basis. Teen mothers in school also receive support and guidance through a program aimed at supporting their decision to remain in school and care for their baby.

Rashanda Perryman, Children’s Defense Fund Watch Video »
Aisha Ray, Erikson Institute Watch Video »
Anjohnette Yvonne Walker Gibbs, Delta Early Learning Program Watch Video »

The Time is Now: A Strong Start for Young Black Males Is a Strong Future for the Nation

Wade Henderson challenged the audience to refuse to tolerate the poor rate of school success Black boys experience. With only 12 percent of fourth-grade Black males performing at or above proficient levels in reading in recent national assessments, Mr. Henderson pushed the audience to take action by protecting low income children and families from budget cuts, requiring schools to provide the highest quality of teachers to the children in high poverty schools who need them the most and lending support to early childhood education strategies such as the prek-3rd grade approach. In his final comments he called for the audience to champion a coherent value change, to re-weave the fabric of the family and to remember children cannot be what they cannot imagine.

Catherine M. Millet, ETS
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Watch Video »

Approaches to Learning from PreK-3rd Grade and the Effect on Closing Gaps

A growing body of research on the value of a prek-3rd grade early learning continuum in reducing the 3rd grade achievement gap is emerging. Dr. Kristie Kauerz, a leading researcher on the topic presented information on the basic elements of the continuum that must be present if the approach is to be successful. Access to high quality full-day pre-school and kindergarten as well as highly trained teachers and curriculum alignment are a few of the components she discussed in depth. Following her discussion of basic elements of the approach, two public school districts were highlighted who had successfully implemented the model and provided longitudinal data to support its success. Linda Sullivan-Dudzic from Bremerton Public Schools in Washington and Dr.Jerry Weast, Superintendent of the Montgomery County Schools in Maryland both shared how the implementation of the approach proved to be pivotal in school turn around for their districts and closing the achievement gap for minority students.

Michela English, Fight For Children Watch Video »
Jeanne Middleton-Hairston, Children’s Defense Fund Watch Video »
Kristie Kauerz, Harvard Graduate School of Education Watch Video »
Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, Bremerton School District Watch Video »
Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery County Public Schools

Strengthening the Agenda: Ensuring A Strong Start
Michael T. Nettles, ETS
Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund Watch Video »


Russlynn Ali
U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Russlynn Ali as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education on March 18, 2009, and she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 1, 2009. As Assistant Secretary, Ali is Secretary Arne Duncan's primary adviser on civil rights and is responsible for enforcing U.S. civil rights laws as they pertain to education — ensuring the nation's schools, colleges and universities receiving federal funding do not engage in discriminatory conduct related to race, sex, disability or age. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces five major civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Age Discrimination Act of 1975; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. OCR also enforces provisions of the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act (Sec. 9525 of the No Child Left Behind Act).

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Oscar A. Barbarin III
Oscar A. Barbarin III is the Hertz Endowed Chair in the Department of Psychology at Tulane University. His research has focused on the social and familial determinants of ethnic and gender achievement gaps beginning in early childhood. Barbarin also has developed ABLE, a mental health screening tool for young children, and is the principal investigator of the Promoting Academic Success of Boys of Color, or PAS Initiative — a national study that focuses on the socio-emotional and academic development of boys of color. His work on children of African descent extends to a 20-year longitudinal study of the effects of poverty and violence on child development in South Africa. Barbarin served as President of the American Orthopsychiatric Association from 2001 to 2003 and was elected to the Governing Council of the Society for Research in Child Development. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Rutgers University in 1975 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in social psychology at Stanford University in 1983.

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Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. She has received over 100 honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which include: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors; I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children; and The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation. A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, Edelman was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar and directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi.

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Michela English
As President & CEO of Fight For Children, Michela English leads a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of education for low-income children in Washington, D.C. Fight For Children promotes excellence in urban education by identifying and replicating best practices in K–12 schools and by expanding access to quality early childhood programs for three- and four-year olds. Prior to joining Fight For Children, English worked for eight years as President of Discovery Consumer Products and Discovery.com. In the 1990s, English served as Senior Vice President of the National Geographic Society. Earlier in her career, she served as an officer at Marriott Corporation and a consultant at McKinsey and Company. English has held leadership roles at a variety of education- and youth-related organizations. She serves as Vice Chair of the ETS Board of Trustees and as a board member of D.C. Preparatory Academy (a public charter school) and the D.C. Public Education Fund. She also is a member of the Advisory Council of the William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science and of the Advisory Board of the Yale School of Management. English earned a master's degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from Sweet Briar College.

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Rev. Anjohnette Yvonne Walker Gibbs
Rev. Anjohnette Yvonne Walker Gibbs is an Elder in the United Methodist Church and an Education Specialist. She is widely recognized as an advocate for children who provides consultant leadership, as well as motivational messages for Head Start organizations, along with community, university and religious groups. She trains pre-K staff for local school districts and has supervised employees at W. C. O. I. Head Start for 21 years. Previously, she served as a kindergarten instructor for 31 years in Lexington, Chicago and Greenville schools. Gibbs also has received many honors, was an honor graduate at Alcorn State University and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and is affiliated with many organizations, including the National Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Mississippi Early Childhood Association, the Eta Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the Delta Resources Committee, the Mental Health Association and Our House Domestic Violence Incorporated. Gibbs earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Alcorn State University and a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

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Cathy Grace
Cathy Grace directs the early childhood education policy team at the Children's Defense Fund. She began her career as a first-grade teacher in the Arkansas Delta and went on to direct the statewide implementation of public school kindergarten as Early Childhood Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Education. As a teacher educator, Grace has directed research and published peer-reviewed articles on issues related to rural children and effective professional development for early childhood teachers in all types of educational settings. As an advocate for children, she has advised governors and policymakers across the southeast and is the current Chair of the Mississippi Early Childhood Advisory Council. Over the course of Grace's career, she has been awarded more than $50 million for research and service projects related to early childhood education and parent engagement.

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Wade Henderson
Wade Henderson is President & CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation's premier civil and human rights coalition, and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Under his stewardship, The Leadership Conference has become one of the nation's most effective advocates for civil and human rights. Henderson also is the Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Professor of Public Interest Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. Prior to his role with The Leadership Conference, Henderson was the Washington Bureau Director of the NAACP.  Henderson is a graduate of Howard University and the Rutgers University School of Law. He also is a member of the bar in the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Iheoma U. Iruka
Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D., is a researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on low-income and ethnic minority children's school readiness and academic and social success, as well as on the role of the family, education environments and systems in this process. Iruka's work also focuses on how family and early childhood/school process facilitate and promote young children's development and learning. Examples of her research include examining the impact of a high-quality early education program, Educare, for at-risk children's school success and family functioning, as well as reforming preK–third grade to create a seamless education that improves the outcomes of minority children. Iruka has knowledge in the areas that examine systems of care and education for typically developing children and children with special needs. She also has extensive experience conducting analysis using large-scale longitudinal data sets to examine ethnic minority children's experiences and development.

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Kristie Kauerz
Kristie Kauerz, Ed.D, is Program Director for PreK–third grade education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She specializes in early care and education as well as elementary school reform, with particular interest in state-level policy and its roles and responsibilities. Her expertise is based on her work with more than 40 states on issues related to P–3 (pre-natal–third grade) and centers around the linkages among policy, research and practice. Her experience includes work at the state level (for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr. and Colorado Gov. Roy Romer); at the national level, as Program Director for early learning at Education Commission of the States; and in academia at the National Center for Children and Families (Teachers College) and at the Center for Human Investment Policy (University of Colorado-Denver). Kauerz has authored and co-authored numerous articles, book chapters, and reports on topics ranging from state kindergarten policies to early childhood governance to P–3 policy alignment. She co-authored Washington state's Early Learning and Development Benchmarks, a book on improving the early care and education teaching workforce, and is co-editor of a forthcoming volume on early childhood systems. Kauerz is a graduate of Colorado College, American University and Teachers College at Columbia University.

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Jeanne Middleton-Hairston
Jeanne Middleton-Hairston is the National Director of the Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program, a summer and after-school reading enrichment program that served more than 9,600 students at 142 program sites in 84 cities and 29 states in 2010. She is an accomplished educator, lecturer and community leader with over 25 years of experience in public and private education. She served as a tenured professor of education on the faculty of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, she was Chair of the Department of Education for 11 years and founded the Millsaps College Principals' Institute in 1992. Previously, Middleton-Hairston worked in the Jackson Public Schools Office of Research and Evaluation. Middleton-Hairston is a co-author of the award-winning history textbook Mississippi: Conflict and Change. She earned doctorate and master's degrees in administration, planning and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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Catherine M. Millett
Catherine M. Millett is a senior research scientist in the Policy Evaluation & Research Center at ETS. Her research focuses on educational access, student performance and achievement, educational equity, and student financing for various population groups in the United States at the postsecondary educational level. Millett directs the evaluation of the "New Careers in Nursing" Program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and co-leads the evaluation of the Goldman Sachs Foundation’s Signature Initiative "Developing High-Potential Youth." She is co-author of the book Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D., which is based on a research study of more than 9,000 doctoral students at 21 universities. Millett also is a member of the Millhill Child and Family Development Corporation Board of Trustees. She earned a B.A. degree in economics from Trinity College, an Ed.M. in administration planning and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in public policy in higher education from the University of Michigan.

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Michael T. Nettles
Michael T. Nettles is Senior Vice President and the Edmund W. Gordon Chair of ETS's Policy Evaluation & Research Center. Over the course of his career, Nettles has held leadership and faculty positions at two major research universities, and early in his career, he held an academic leadership post at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Nettles served as the first Executive Director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the College Fund/UNCF. He also serves on numerous boards. His past board memberships include the National Assessment Governing Board and the Board of Trustees of the College Board. Nettles’ publications address issues of achievements gaps in education. They include Developing High-Potential Youth Program: A Return on Investment Study for U.S. Programs and The Challenge and Opportunity of African American Educational Achievement in the United States.

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Rashanda Perryman
Rashanda Perryman is a senior policy associate with the Children's Defense Fund and works on policy as it relates to early childhood development and education. She started her career as a teacher in a community-based early childhood center, and then served as a case worker in a welfare-to-work program assisting families as they transitioned into the workplace. She also was a case manager with a childcare subsidy program. Perryman previously worked as a policy associate at the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago, where her primary responsibilities were advocacy; staffing meetings and events; outreach with public leaders and officials; and constituent correspondence. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education from Clark Atlanta University and a Master of Science in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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Aisha Ray
Aisha Ray, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of Faculty and the Rochelle Zell Dean's Chair at the Erikson Institute. A 1972 Erikson graduate, she has taught at the Institute for 17 years and was named Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty on July 1, 2009. Her areas of research include cultural and situational contexts of child development, early childhood professional development, father-child relationships in urban communities, and early childhood services for immigrant children and families. She currently leads a project with Barbara T. Bowman to understand and improve teacher preparation to successfully educate children of diverse cultural, linguistic and economic backgrounds. Ray is a senior research associate at the University of Pennsylvania's National Center on Fathers and Families. She has previously taught on the faculty of DePaul University's School of Education.  Ray also has served as a consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, the National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership and Child Trends.

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Linda Sullivan-Dudzic
Linda Sullivan-Dudzic is Special Programs Director for the Bremerton School District and an independent educational consultant. She also is a co-author of Making a Difference: 10 Essential Steps to Building a PreK–3 System (Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, Donna Gearns & Kelli Leavell, Corwin Press, 2010). Sullivan-Dudzic has spent the past 30 years connecting the early childhood community to the K–3 public school system. Building on a strong early childhood foundation as a speech language pathologist for Kitsap Community Head Start, she has continued her work in the public and private sector. As Special Programs Director, she works with a dynamic team to build a strong P–3 educational system and to train other school districts. Her work in higher education involves designing and teaching college-level courses to increase the skills and knowledge of teachers working in this field. She also is a co-founder of a faith-based private preschool whose mission is to provide quality education to families who cannot afford preschool.

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Jerry D. Weast
Jerry D. Weast, Ed.D., is Superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools, the largest and most diverse school system in Maryland and the 16th largest district in the nation. Appointed to the position in 1999 and reappointed in 2003 and 2007, Weast has served during a period of great demographic change in Montgomery County and has kept the focus on narrowing the achievement gap for the district's 145,000 students. Montgomery County Public Schools has earned national recognition in consecutive years for achieving the highest student graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school systems and has consistently led the nation in having the most high schools among the nation's top 100 high schools as identified by Newsweek magazine.  All of the district's high schools are annually ranked in the top three percent of all high schools in the nation. Montgomery County Public Schools received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2010 for performance excellence and was a 2010 finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education.  Montgomery County Public Schools' success in closing the achievement gap is chronicled in the book Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009), and in numerous case studies.

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