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Ronald Ferguson, a scholar of the racial achievement gap in education, argued for a social movement to ensure educational equality yesterday. He delivered his remarks in Sayles Hall for the 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture.

In her introduction to the lecture, Valerie Wilson, associate provost and director of institutional diversity, said that Ferguson's work demonstrates how the challenge of advancing civil rights remains relevant today.

Ferguson discussed the continued importance of equality in education after the civil rights movement. He advocated for considering the legal changes the civil rights movement brought while closely examining how those changes manifest in educational institutions and affect the development of children.

After the lecture, President Ruth Simmons told The Herald she felt Ferguson provided critical insights into a very important topic. She said she agrees with his message that passion for change in education must be transformed into a widespread movement. "You need a massive number of people to engage and push for reform in order to have the national effect we would like to see," she said.

Ferguson is the founder of the Tripod Project for School Improvement, and has developed surveys that use student perception to measure the effectiveness of teaching for a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project.  His Tripod surveys identify the "Seven C's" of teaching he considers central to a student's classroom experience: care, control, challenge, clarify, captivate, confer and consolidate.

Ferguson said he uses this data to identify schools with the highest learning gains and determine how they achieve them. He said he has identified teacher quality as one of the most important factors in the struggle to close the achievement gap.

During a question and answer session after the lecture, Ferguson addressed the issue of education perpetuating social hierarchy.  "People who already have privilege tend to award it," he said, and the students whose parents are not as well-off most need to be advocated for.

Paul Tran '14 asked Ferguson about the "glass ceilings" that students of color and first-generation college attendees must break through to succeed in college. Ferguson, himself the son of a bus driver and stay-at-home mother from Cleveland, Ohio, encouraged Tran to "just keep pushing" and advocate for himself at Brown. Tran, who was raised by his mother, a Vietnamese refugee who came to the U.S. in 1989, told The Herald he is interested in the forces that prevent students of color and first-generation students from even applying to college in the first place.

Ferguson also spoke about creating opportunities for students who do not pursue college education and instead study in vocational programs. Jonathon Acosta '11 asked how schools could ensure that Latino and black students are not disproportionately encouraged to pursue vocational programs instead of attending college. "That's the million dollar question," Ferguson responded.

Ferguson advocated a social movement that creates a new national identity in the arena of education, which would entail a different lifestyle and renewed commitment to helping students realize their full potential.

One of the goals of this lecture was to initiate a dialogue in the Brown community on issues of race in education, Maria Pacheco, director of equity and diversity projects, told The Herald.



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