Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Social work dean proposes bridging ‘achievement gap’ through systemic change

The growing achievement gap between minority students and white students presents a challenge for school administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

“It can’t be business as usual, and we can’t just repackage what we are already doing. That doesn’t work anymore,” James Herbert Williams told a packed Driscoll Ballroom at the spring Provost’s Luncheon on April 29th.

The dean of the Graduate School of Social Work spoke about how the educational system—and the broader community—can meet the needs of African-American children as the achievement gap widens.

His presentation was the final speech in a series of three Provost Lectures inspired by the 2008–09 Bridges to the Future theme of exploring the future of education. Past speakers include former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, co-director of DU’s Institute for Public Policy Studies and Ginger Maloney, director of the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy and former dean of the DU’s Morgridge College of Education.

Failure to succeed academically can have a significant impact on a student’s chance of employment, future earnings, and choices regarding marriage and family formation, Williams said.

Academic success is greatly influenced by the student’s household and family structure, socio-economic status, neighborhood, and parent’s level of education, he added.

Williams believes that in order to meet the unique needs of African-American students, society must address the lack of parental engagement in the schools and the lack of funding and staffing resources.

While there are many successful programs that reach African-American youth, Williams said society still has not yet embraced the cause in a wide-spread manner.

“We still haven’t grabbed this issue in a systemic way,” he said. “We need to form strong partnerships between parents, the schools and organizations in the community.”

“It’s time for us as a society to begin to tackle the issues facing our schools—we can’t just want to do it, we have to have the will to do it.”

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