Discussions about Diversity: North Carolina’s Achievement Gap
Article Date: Monday, December 05, 2011
Written By: Kimberly P. Williams
As a part of its 2010 Strategic Plan, the NCBA created the Joint Diversity Task Force. The primary mission of this group is to provide recommendations and strategies to achieve greater diversity in the Association and the North Carolina law profession as a whole. As the Joint Diversity Task Force report states, "the educational pipeline towards diversity in the legal profession begins as early as the pre-kindergarten level. Unfortunately, this pipeline is replete with leaks and clogs. A startling number of diverse potential law students, future lawyers and judges are being lost at every point along the continuum." (Momentum 2010: Joint Diversity Task Force, p. 9)
The achievement gap affects not only future lawyers, but the future for all of North Carolina's children. It has been said that "the foundation of every state is the education of its youth" (Diogenes Laertius). This being the case, North Carolina has much cause for concern. Currently, North Carolina's minority youth are faring far worse academically than their non-minority counterparts. This disparity in academic achievement is known as "the achievement gap." Those working in the education, juvenile justice, and other youth serving fields are no strangers to the statistics. During the 2008-09 academic year, 84.2 percent of White students were performing at grade level or higher compared to 58.3 percent of Black students (North Carolina Justice Center, Exposing the Gap Revisited, p. 2). This same school year resulted in only half of the Black students taking the end-of-course (EOC) tests in Algebra 1, Civics, History, and Biology performing at grade level compared to 80 percent of White students (North Carolina Justice Center, Exposing the Achievement Gap, Revisited, p. 3).
What Does This Mean?
Obviously, the numbers speak for themselves. Black students and those of other minority groups are not achieving at the same levels as White students. But what does this really mean and what are the implications? Why should North Carolina be concerned with over half of an entire population of youth not performing at grade level? North Carolina is home to the best and brightest in the areas of research and academia. Boasting the Research Triangle Park and University of North Carolina College System, this region must continue to cultivate and invest in the young people of this state as a means to remain competitive in not only the local economy, but globally. A sound education is one of the primary differences between the "haves" and the "have not's." Those who have will continue to contribute to this economy. They will be among those who are able to compete and be the source of continuing innovation, creativity, and community mobilization. The haves are our future scientists, biologists, doctors, and politicians. The have not's will be a strain on this same economy. Youth who are not equipped with a sound education will not have the same opportunities to compete. They have a greater risk of becoming adults who exhaust the resources of the economy and contribute to the costly prison system. With a current prison population of more than 40,000 and construction costs averaging more than $80,000 per prison bed, North Carolina can hardly afford to continue this path of disenfranchisement.
Much has been done in the area of education on this racial achievement gap, yet much work still remains. The Juvenile Justice and Children's Rights Section, one of 28 sections of the NCBA, has made it a priority to support the recommendation from the Diversity Taskforce to sponsor a Closing the Achievement Gap Conference designed to consider and offer strategies related to decreasing the achievement gap in primary and secondary education, including issues related to the language barriers that Hispanic students and families face in the education system.
The Juvenile Justice & Children's Rights Section has appointed me as your diversity liaison to serve as the primary point of contact between the Section and the Diversity Task Force. If you are interested in learning more about the achievement gap, the Closing the Achievement Gap Conference, or becoming involved with your local Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your ideas about ways to help academically at-risk students and to promote diversity at the NCBA. •
Kimberly Williams is the Juvenile Justice Specialist with the Governor's Crime Commission and was formerly the state Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator.
Views and opinions expressed in articles published herein are the authors' only and are not to be attributed to this newsletter, the section, or the NCBA unless expressly stated. Authors are responsible for the accuracy of all citations and quotations.