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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sam Holton, March 28, 2001. Interview K-0206. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Socioeconomic disparities as the primary cause of students' achievement gap

Holton argues that class, rather than race, creates a greater social disparity among residents. Because many whites attended the University of North Carolina and many blacks did not, an educational gap emerged between whites and blacks. Holton maintains that the achievement gap of public school students replicates the educational legacies of their parents. Although he illuminates social disparities between whites and blacks, Holton lauds the town's commitment to education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sam Holton, March 28, 2001. Interview K-0206. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JENNY MATTHEWS:
So, were there immediate achievement gaps?
SAM HOUSTON:
Well, yes. I think what you have to think about the achievement gaps Achievement gaps were more related to parent education levels, and social class, rather than to ethnicity. So, you probably had achievement gaps that included whites as well as blacks, but the basic educational level of most of the black community was not he same as basic education level of the white community. So, you were going to have, yes, you were going to have that disparity. And you can have a pretty well desegregated school system, and the fact of desegregation in terms of ethnicity isn't going to solve your achievement gaps that are based on other cultural and economic circumstances. Now, I think simplistically, we just assume this is a persistent effort to deal only with white students. If anything the school board and the faculty were leaning over backwards for that not to be the case. The achievement gaps were largely cultural and sociological.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
What measures did the school board and faculty take?
SAM HOUSTON:
Well, of course you depend on your superintendent and your instructional staff to do the things they need to do in trying to rectify any differences that are occurring. Now, I think we've had a very concerned staff and faculty along those lines. Now, aside from the efforts to be sure that we were providing attractive programs for both blacks and whites. For instance, we had a Black Gospel Choir very early in things, because there was a student demand for it. It was something they had at Lincoln. Where very few whites were interested in it, but .. get one or two.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
Do you know how that got started?
SAM HOUSTON:
I expect by students themselves asking some faculty member to sponsor it. I don't even remember who sponsored it. I don't remember whether it was a black teacher or a white teacher, or whether it was just somebody in the music department that wanted to do it. It may have, on the other hand, it may have been one of those things where the faculty or principal said, "Well, we've got to find extracurricular activities for our whole population, and this is essentially a segregated activity, but it's self-segregated." If you're going to say you can organize any kind of club you want to organize as long as it is, isn't too exclusive. So that anybody that wants to join can join. I don't know how else you can do it.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
How was achievement determined then? Were there tests?
SAM HOUSTON:
Well, it would be the same. As far as class achievement-. Well, you've got-now we have statewide testing programs that make it relatively easy to identify who is doing well and what the gaps are. They had achievement testing, and I don't remember what. There again, you'd have to go back to school records to find out. But, I don't think there was any question that there was a larger proportion of the low-income population that were having difficulties. Though the schools had had probably the smallest drop-out rate in the state for some time. Back in the, back when I was on the school board, I had been teaching courses in secondary education and expressing concerns about the drop-out rates, and the superintendent said, "Well, you're talking about somebody else." He says, "our drop our rate at that time was maybe five percent." So, whereas in Yanceyville, where I had been, between the first grade and the twelfth grade, you dropped off seventy-five percent of your population, or between the fifth grade and the twelfth grade, you'd drop out. Same thing would have been true in Northampton County, in 1950, 1955. But-. So, we didn't have a large drop-out problem, but the drop-out problem was always with the students who were doing less well, which typically was the lower socio-economic group. I had a number of graduate students do dissertations on school persistence. And, in fact, one of them pointed out, one of the dissertations pointed out, that if a sibling finished high school, the odds were much higher that the younger siblings would finish. If the parents had finished high school, the odds were pretty high, were exceedingly high, that the children would finish high school. If the parents had gone to college, the odds were pretty good the students, the children were going to go college. So that, here again, these studies, most of them, most of the dissertations I worked on there were, were prior to desegregation. So, you have an achievement gap any time that you have a large disparity between the social levels, the educational levels, the economic opportunities within the population. Now, you got a reasonably homogeneous population, as you might find in let's say Iowa, then that is less true, because basically the whole community has about the same education level. Now, it's not necessarily very high, but it is similar. Whereas in our setting, the, or in any semi-urban area, you've got a wide disparity, economically between the haves and the have-nots, and educationally, it follows somewhat the same pattern. So, it's a more complex kind of a problem than to simply say it is the result of blackness or whiteness. Now, I suppose it is convenient to recognize that as long as there is that disparity between the black population and white population, that there is going to be some tendency to re-segregate along other lines. But, I think that the proposition that the blacks were here and the whites were here is not totally accurate. We did have middle-class blacks, and they were achieving in either the black school, or in the white school. Now the number, the proportion of the black graduates of Lincoln for instance going on to college was probably much smaller than the proportion of white students going from Chapel Hill High to college. Part of that represents the fact that we are in a University community and the principal employer is the University. So, the proportion of parents who went on to college was much greater. Now, whether that would have been true in Yanceyville, and I assume in Northampton County-. The only college graduates in Yanceyville was the professional classes: the lawyers-well it's the county-seat town, so the lawyers-the doctor, the people that worked, the school nurse, and the people that worked for the county, the school teachers, and that pretty well did it. The principal-. Well, the owner of the Ford Motor Company for instance, had never been to college. Now, he was a relatively wealthy person and very supportive of schooling, but he was also an older man who had gotten started in business in an era in which college education was not particularly important. His wife-he had married the school teacher. It's an interesting all right, I don't know if I've taken care of that question for you