High COVID-19 death rate in D.C.’s Wards 5, 7 and 8 was predictable, just look at academic achievement gap

Fully eighty percent of those who have passed away from the Coronavirus in the District of Columbia are black. Almost all of these cases involve individuals who live in Wards 5, 7, and 8, the poorest areas of the city.

The news has been flooded with stories explaining that those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to passing away from the disease. Medical experts and social scientists have also known for years that when people live in poverty their environment is characterized by negative social determinants of health that lead to the chronic illnesses that are now contributing to the demise of these individuals. Adverse Childhood Events also plague this population, and having a high number of ACE’s has been shown to be a precursor to the development of serious maladies.

It is all one horrific circle, one that starts from the time kids come onto this Earth. Perhaps the first real indicator of the problem is the three-year-old boys and girls that come into our schools already academically behind. The gap in knowledge between white students and minority pupils in the nation’s capital is 60 points. It is perhaps the largest in the country, and is a span that despite twenty-five years of public education reform has not budged.

I have written time and time again about our need to take this achievement gap deadly seriously. Until we ensure that all students receive a quality education, we will never break the cycle that is now taking away the future from our neighbors. We must ensure that those brave souls who create schools serving the most at-risk students have the financial support and other resources that can reverse the situation for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

There are numerous charter schools that have taken on this challenge. But there are so many obstacles in their way that it is a miracle that their visionary leaders don’t run the other way. Some of these blockades are put in place by our city leadership in the form of the inequitable funding that charters receive compared to the traditional schools. Another challenge is the severe lack of permanent facilities that our Mayor will not talk about while ignoring a chorus of pleas to turn over vacant DCPS buildings. Our own charter board contributes to the issue through bureaucratic oversight of existing schools and those groups that want to create new classrooms.

Until we are serious about closing the academic achievement gap we will never eliminate the health gap that we are experiencing for all to see today. There are no words to describe the horror of the current situation.

However, I’m an eternal optimist so I believe something good can come out of this tragedy. Someone out there could decide that enough is enough. One person can still change the world.

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