Editorial: The JCPS Achievement Gap and The Planted Idea of Success

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the students, administration, staff, or faculty of duPont Manual High School.

This editorial was submitted by Clayton Olash (10), special contributor to RedEye.

Evan Willett nonchalantly opened some mail he found on his kitchen counter that read, “ACT Scores” one afternoon. He opened it to find he scored a 32 on the standardized test. At a relatively similar time, Montreal Simmons sorted through a clutter of miscellaneous junk to find mail with the same heading. He found he scored a 17. Both students felt the same emotional attachment towards their score: satisfaction.

While Evan Willett read the mail about his ACT score he momentarily got distracted by the tantalizing smell of the meal his mom was cooking in a room near him. His mom only worked part time because Evan’s dad made enough money to support the family.  His Mom hollered from the other room, “Have you started you homework yet, Evan?” like she usually does around 6 o’clock each afternoon. Evan, knowing what his parents expected of him, got busily to work.

Montreal on the other hand, accidentally opened the ACT mail while searching for something else. When he read “17” on it he thought, “That’s about what Floyd and Miranda (two of his friends) got, not bad.” Not to mention his parents wouldn’t care or know as long as he was staying in school and their phones weren’t ringing from his teachers. But the time he spent thinking about the piece of mail in general was short as it was 9:30 and he hadn’t had a real meal. He ended up grabbing something out of the freezer and throwing it in the microwave. His mom had the late shift that night and wouldn’t be home for several more hours. He didn’t know when his dad would be home. No parent ever asked him if he’d started his homework that night, and he never did.

Evan Willett is a junior at duPont Manual high school, while Montreal Simmons is a junior at Fern Creek. On the surface the two look very similar. They both are in the same physical shape, neither suffer from physical or mental problems, both enjoy hanging out with their friends, and neither one particularly enjoys doing homework. However, each live in completely different environments. Evan Willett comes from a family of successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. Ever since he could talk he was told he was going to do great things, but only if he did well in school. “My dad always said I was smart enough to do even better than him, that if I worked hard in school I could own my own business or become a doctor. My parents planted this idea in my head when I was real young, and I never really resisted or questioned it,” said Evan.

Montreal’s family is lower middle class, his dad’s a security officer and his mom works fast food. “My parents, especially my dad, always say get good grades in school. But when I get bad grades he never punishes me. I think it’s probably because he didn’t do all that good (in school),” Montreal explained.  “I’ll probably end up joining the military, and then get a job like security or police. I’ve never heard of the police force asking for your ACT scores.”

When asked if they would be considered smart, average, or stupid by their peers at their school, they both responded, “average.” Montreal’s school, Fern Creek, is among the lower scoring schools on Jefferson County Public Schools CATS scores in Louisville, Kentucky. Evan’s school, duPont Manual is the highest scoring school in the district. Fern Creek’s average ACT score in spring 2008 was 17.1, while Manual’s was 24.8. JCPS is desperately trying to figure out why there is such a large difference in test score performance between many of the schools in Jefferson County. The gap in test scores between the schools is called the “achievement gap” by many administrators researching it. Many people have pointed the finger at the teachers claiming that it starts in the classroom. Because of this, teachers are being laid off. However, as Evan alluded to, it may have something to do with the environment the student lives in, and the “planted idea” of success.