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‘Opportunity gap’ creates achievement gap for poor, black children in Dayton schools

What can be done: Early child education, wrap-around services aimed at poor children

Editor’s note: This story is part of a package of reports exploring race- and poverty-based achievement gaps at Dayton Public Schools and how they can be bridged. Read our full report here. 

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A 2015 report from Public Health – Dayton and Montgomery County illustrates the barriers some children encounter even before entering kindergarten. 

The report analyzed 18 factors that contribute to a person’s ability to succeed in life, such as income and unemployment, crime, health issues and educational attainment, and then mapped the areas where these factors were the highest and lowest.  

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Poverty cuts across races but is much higher in the black population, the study shows. 

The report found 70 percent of Montgomery County’s black population live in low or very low opportunity communities while 14 percent live in high or very high opportunity areas. 

Meanwhile, 55 percent of the county’s white population live in high and very high opportunity areas and 27 percent experience low or very low opportunities, according to the report. 

Here is the map, showing black populations concentrated in “low opportunity” areas: 

 

Having integrated classrooms has long been seen as a way to bridge the achievement gap between black and white students, but Dayton has had a troubled history of school integration involving the courts, forced busing and intense opposition from the community. 

Dayton Public Schools was under a federal desegregation order for decades ending in 2002. A Dayton Daily News review of busing in 1986 found it correlated with a period of a decreased gap in black-white achievement, but also with increased white flight. The exodus continued long after that examination was done. 

RELATED: 6 factors that contribute to the black achievement gap at Dayton schools

 Today, local leaders are skeptical of the political viability of any large-scale merger or integration of area districts. Within DPS, however, some have argued the district needs to give parents with means — regardless of skin color — a reason to send their children to school in their neighborhood instead of across town or to a charter or parochial school. More than 6,800 Dayton students attended charter schools last year, more than half the number attending DPS schools. Another 2,500 used vouchers at a private school. 

PODCAST: Listen to the Path Forward: Dayton Schools podcast

 Other methods to integrate students across district lines could include adjusting school district boundaries, creating open-enrollment magnet schools in the city to attract students from the suburbs, and increasing open enrollment across the region with diversity as a goal. 

Some have advocated a realignment that would include more neighborhood schools with wrap-around services that combine health resources and after-school programming. 

THE PATH FORWARD: The region must rally to fix the Dayton Public Schools

Virtually every expert says early child education is vital. The education policy group Groundwork Ohio, led by Republican Warren County Commissioner Shannon Jones, released a report this month calling for more investment in preschool programs. 

Most brain development happens before age 5, the report says, and poor children tend to enter kindergarten years behind their peers and never catch up. 

A video from Groundwork Ohio: 

Nearly 54 percent of Ohio’s black children live in poverty, according to the report. 

Despite the proven benefits of preschool, just 6 percent of state education goes to early childhood programs. 

“Ohio needs greater investments in high-quality early childhood education for our most at-risk children,” the report says. “It is the proven investment for kids, communities and taxpayers.”

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