A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2012–13 issue of Erikson on Children under the headline “Closing the gap.”
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Erikson has launched Envisioning Change, a statewide effort to close the achievement gap for African American students beginning in the earliest grades.

Image: Young girlThe effort, supported by a $360,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, will focus state and local leaders’ attention and action on the creation of a practical and targeted blueprint for action.

“African American students face a constellation of challenges that children should not have to face,” says Aisha Ray, project investigator and Erikson’s senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty.

“A high percentage are living in economic poverty and too many have experienced trauma in their young lives. They are more likely than other children to attend schools with ineffective leadership, unequal funding, and poor instructional practices.”

With these challenges, African American students continue to fall behind in Illinois, testing well below their classmates by third grade.

“State policy simply isn’t sufficiently focused on helping school districts address the challenges and inequities African American students face during the critical early childhood years leading up to third grade,” says Ray.

About Envisioning Change

Erikson is convening a task force of some 40 educators, advocates, and other stakeholders to develop a statewide plan outlining specific strategies and a timeline. Over the next two years, the group will review the latest research on the achievement gap and promising programs, practices, and policies nationwide and in Illinois. Erikson will also collaborate with several Illinois school districts to understand their specific challenges.

“Envisioning Change will help bring solutions that work to Illinois school districts,” states Ray.

Jana Fleming, director of the Herr Research Center for Children and Social Policy, serves as the principal investigator, and Shannon Hart is the project director. The Center informs, guides, and supports effective early childhood policy, with a focus on inequality and achievement disparities in young children.

UPDATE: In March 2013, Florence Kimondo became the project director for Envisioning Change.