A lesson on color?

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September 1st, 2011

Omaha, NE – The Omaha Public School district is in the early stages of improving the ability of its staff to relate to students of different backgrounds and cultures. But not everyone agrees with a small book that’s costing the district over $130,000.

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The Omaha Public School district is the largest in the state. And, they also have some of the highest numbers of students attending who live in poverty. Janice Garnett is the Assistant Superintendent with OPS’s Human Resource department. Garnett said within the past 15 years, the cultural population of students has changed. And since 2005, she said OPS has been taking note. In fact, earlier this summer, the district purchased 8,000 copies of a book that promotes the idea of teachers improving relationships with students of all backgrounds – both racial and socio-economic.

“The need is to make sure that we have the tools and the equipment to work effectively with all kids,” Garnett said. “When your demographics change, you need to make sure you have everything possible to reach all students.”

Garnett said that about 90 percent of the teachers in the OPS district are white. OPS is aware that this book alone will not balance the percentage, Garnett added, but it will at least start a conversation.

However, not everyone feels a lesson on race needs to be taught to teachers. John McCollister is the executive director of the local non-profit Platte Institute. He said the books will cost over $131,000 to distribute, and he said that’s a waste of federal stimulus money. McCollister said the book doesn’t focus on improving student test scores and graduation rates. Instead it looks at color.

“I’d rather almost have the staff be color blind,” he said, “Rather than focusing on the differences that students have. Every student at OPS deserves the very best shot teachers and staff can give those kids. I think if we would focus on students graduation rates and test scores, we might be better off.”

So for now, there isn’t really a black and white answer for improving Omaha’s overall education system.

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