David Tansey and Elaine Weiss collaborated to write this very insightful article about what happens to young black men in the District of Columbia public schools.

Tansey learned how to connect with his students on a human level, to talk about the issues that matter in their lives, to discuss the purpose of education.

With all the boasting about test score gains in D.C., the article reminds us that the district has a gaping achievement gap, and that the relentless focus on testing is not the mechanism to educate the kids who are still left behind. They are left behind not so much by their scores as by the institutional and societal neglect that surrounds their young lives.

Tansey, speaking of his experience in leading an after-school program, writes:

Clubs like mine make up for some of this gap in opportunity. They allow students to witness what graduation could mean, and they motivate students to achieve what students before them have. But we have not prioritized such components of the high school experience. Indeed, teacher churn has made it almost impossible to provide DCPS students with experiences beyond the classroom. The Gentlemen of Dunbar is the only non-athletic after-school program that has existed for more than four years straight. This makes students feel like they are simply riding the standards-based conveyor belt to graduation, whatever that signifies.

I believe we can do better. But it will take an honest reassessment of what really fosters “success.” Then we have to take on the equally difficult task of determining how to duplicate our experiences for students whose status in life does not provide a familiar, beaten path upward. I recommend we start by speaking to students about how they see the world. Making use of this second lens might give us the depth of insight into social mobility our nation so desperately needs. And it is infinitely more likely to produce NAEP scores that advance, rather than impede, that mobility.