Philadelphia School District officials have known they had an achievement gap on their hands for years.
Today, they saw the raw data, and were collectively horrified.
One in 10 white students is classified as mentally gifted; just 3 in 100 black students are.
Black and Latino students make up 79 percent of the district's 165,000 students, but make up just 54 percent of students in the district's prestigious magnet schools. Those groups make up 90 percent of all children labeled "emotionally disturbed," and most of the students at the district's lowest-performing schools.
"Steady progress is not enough," said new superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who has told district employees they must accelerate their efforts to help students. "Why do you think I'm talking about urgency?"
School Reform Commission member James Gallagher said the numbers were "extremely disturbing, but very important."
Each school will receive data on its own specific gaps, and principals will have to meet performance targets tied to narrowing them, Ackerman said. The district will also conduct professional development, and has already earmarked $12 million in resources for the lowest-performing schools.
Ackerman, who came to the district three months ago, has said she will introduce a weighted student funding formula that gives more money to schools that educate certain students, such as special education or low-income pupils.
To counter low participation rates and low scores on the SAT and PSAT, Ackerman and commission chair Sandra Dungee Glenn said the district would also find $163,608 to pay for every student to take the exams. The district has paid for the exams in the past but in recent years, that money was cut.
The superintendent also took aim at some of the district's special admittance schools. She said she can't understand why the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, which opened last week in Northeast Philadelphia, requires students not only to audition but also score in the 85th percentile on state exams.
"We know the numbers of African American and Latino students who are scoring at that level," Ackerman said. "We are keeping these people out."
Meanwhile, on a visit to the Kensington Creative and Performing Arts Academy, Ackerman discovered the students there have no art classrooms or place to dance.
Ackerman, who said she was not targeting all special admittance schools, was not sure who in her central office made the decision on admittance criteria. But she said she would ask the School Reform Commission to revisit the criteria in the near future.
"We have lots of inequities that are causing these numbers," Ackerman said of the achievement gap.
Also at the commission meeting, members of the Germantown High community highlighted problems at that school.
The school has had four principals in four years, most recently losing Michael Silverman, who had earned the respect of the community, when Ackerman tapped him to be a regional superintendent.
Students did not have rosters on the first day of school, a glitch that will take weeks to sort out. Rev. Bryant Robinson, a member of the Germantown Clergy Initiative, was there on the first day.
"It was dysfunctional. It was chaos," Robinson said. Students were roaming the halls, unsure where to go, he said.
Ackerman said she had monitored the rostering situation before school began, and apologized for the chaos. She said it's a problem that schools don't begin scheduling students until August. Rosters should be sent home by July, she said.
Rev. Kevin Porter, another member of the clergy group, said he was most concerned by Silverman's abrupt departure, and that the community, which had input on the last two principal searches, was not consulted.
"So much of what makes a principal's success is relationships," Porter said, adding that Silverman quickly won over the community by building strong relationships.
Ackerman admitted she made a mistake in removing Silverman. She said does not regret moving Silverman, but said she should have left him at Germantown until a permanent principal was selected.
The final issue the clergy raised was a lack of African American teachers at Germantown, a predominately black school. An old school district policy still in place means that there are caps to how many black teachers can work at one school.
Two qualified African American male teacher candidates were turned away from Germantown because it had already reached its quota of black teachers, the clergy said.
The policy was devised to keep racial balance at a time when black teachers were effectively kept out of white schools, but now, it is blocking student achievement, officials said.
"This is crazy," Ackerman said. "I pledge to you to bring back to the SRC a policy that will change this."