From city to city and state to state, throughout this “great nation,” the public educational system is failing to educate Black youth specifically. The problem is more nuanced than simply saying that the educational system is failing. Public education is the primary system for a considerable number of students of color in the United States. It goes without saying that the public school system is still separate and unequal. Every city has substantial differences between wealthy communities and poor, and how that affects the public educational system. One thing stands true, students of African descent are failing. The simple question is, why?
While many will pinpoint racism, I want to talk about some of the other areas that impede and stunt educational progress. There is undoubtedly a racism problem with the educational system. The institutional racism that guides the curriculum and the overall public school system as well as discipline are all unquestionable. What complicates matters are the role of the parent, the education of the parent, and the participation of the parent in their child’s education. Parents are contributing to the problems in the educational system by their lack of participation. Education is not an individual problem, it is a community problem. When families don’t get support from the community, it becomes nearly impossible for a school district to thrive.
In many schools with majority non-White students, parents are generally absent. Absent meaning, they rely on the schools to drive the full educational agenda, they don't attend PTA meetings, they don't provide additional resources, and expect the school to do nearly everything except discipline their child. This is a generalization and doesn’t address those schools where this isn’t true. However, it is somewhat "normal" in non-White schools for parents to not have a strong presence. That physical presence includes participation in activities, showing up for parent-teacher conferences, supplemental learning, and overall support. There are many factors that change the parent’s availability like jobs and multiple children, but their participation is crucial in the success of every school. While parents will show up to address the issues surrounding their child’s discipline, parents are not providing the necessary participation to help guide the curriculum and fully empower the teachers. This includes knowing what’s being taught, having an understanding of how to help their child learn, giving their time for chaperoning field trips, establishing study habits at home, and more. Their absence not only impacts their child, but it also impacts the teachers, students, counselors and principals. While parental participation in itself doesn’t account for the significant difference between schools in predominantly White schools, it does play a role. Parents have to understand their child’s needs as much as the teachers. The teachers are there for obvious reasons and must do their best to make sure students are learning, but when the teachers are unable to get the parent’s support, their job is even more difficult.
Years ago, the last thing that students wanted was to have their parents show up at school for disciplinary reasons. When your parents had to come to school because you were in trouble, students were more willing to shape-up than have the school make that call. Nowadays, not only are students not afraid, the schools themselves have to weigh their own safety against the benefit of making the parent aware of the issue/s. It is not uncommon to hear stories of parents fighting at the school with other parents, teachers and administrative staff. Students are not always corrected for bad behavior by their parents when they get home. The issue of discipline can create a serious chasm between the schools and families. Parents have to participate in school discipline to understand both the expectations and the consequences of misbehavior. The parent’s role in discipline has to be aligned with the school’s. There should be a mandatory “class” before school starts with parents to explain discipline, answer questions and develop relationships to help make the actions of discipline both acceptable and consistent with the parent’s own expectations. While this doesn’t fix the problem completely, having the parents participate could go a long way in how parents react to discipline to eliminate potential conflict with parents.
The common denominator that needs a superintendent’s address is why there are distinct differences in educational opportunities and resources in the same school district between schools with the same grade levels? How can one school have a stadium, swimming pool, track and basketball gym while in the same school district, another school would have half of those facilities? Why is Latin offered at one school and not all? In many urban school districts, higher income areas will have more resources. This would be the equivalent to having a brand that produces lower quality products based on demographics. Imagine if Starbucks served lower quality coffee in Harlem than in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Starbucks provides the same ingredients and the same quality coffee in each of its independently owned franchises. While the school system isn’t exactly a franchise, the same level of educational quality should be available to each school. Our school districts are somehow able to justify providing higher quality education and more resources in higher income neighborhoods. This becomes a point of contention and consternation in every major city. With 51% of students in public schools being from low income households, the greater need is in those schools that have lower financial resources. If looked at objectively, more funding should be provided to those schools with underperforming students.
Many large city school districts have the added complications of students who are suffering from one or more forms of trauma. This trauma includes but is not limited to food insecurity, poverty, violence, drugs and abuse. Each one of these issues could hinder a child’s ability to learn on its own. Unfortunately, many times, students are suffering through multiple issues. Food insecurity and nutrition are major problems that we don’t see because no one can document the food habits at each child’s home. However, historically, Black families have health concerns ranging from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes to lack of vitamin nutrients and iron. These health issues are indicative of the dietary intake of products that are not consistently healthy. When you find few vegetables and natural ingredients in a home, you’re almost certain that income and education are factors in the food choices available. Poverty, drugs and violence then become the other factors that contribute to a child’s inability to learn. Living in survival mode makes the child less likely to retain information as their minds and bodies are dealing with complex issues to just stay alive. Verbal and physical assault are too “normal” as daily lifestyle occurrences. The impacts of verbal and physical abuse impedes learning by limiting a child’s ability to pay attention and so much more. Psychologically, abusive environments create a mental block for many children that is sometimes insurmountable without therapy or assistance from anyone. These issues require sensitivity and specific programs to address them.
These are not the end-all-be-all to the issues of education in public schools. However, until we get a grasp on these issues, we will continue to see lower success rates and will still not have addressed the problems facing non-White youth. Parents have to show up. Communities have to reconnect with our youth. Discipline has to be developed that is appropriate and effective. Most importantly, we have to pay attention to how our youth learn and provide an environment for them to do that. As it stands, we are not providing a nurturing environment and school districts are not showing the kind of consistency to make every student reach their full potential. So, when will we address, “our” why?
Resouces: Global Citizen
Better education for every student is a pivotal change that public schools are pursuing. However, the recently released congressionally mandated annual report — the Condition of Education 2020 — painted a very unsettling national picture of the state of education for Black students.