Opinion

In America’s National Reckoning With Race, Equity in Education Is Still an Issue

The effects of the pandemic required all of us to adjust our every day — and for some people more than others. Last year’s uprisings against police brutality on Black lives, continued disproportionate immigration enforcement targeting Latinx immigrants, and recently, increased violence against the Asian/Pacific Islander community, alongside the intersections that extend discrimination beyond racism, have forced us to contend with an undeniable history of policies that privileges certain groups over others.

As parents and longtime educators, the cumulative impact of the pandemic, policing and immigration on communities of color continuously reminds us of the goal of equitable education and the broader equity imperative that unequal access to learning demands: Every student gets a chance for a great education regardless of their backgrounds.

Because systemic racism in education is a root cause of so many other inequities that people of color face, we must truly reconsider what kinds of solutions are and are not actionable for developing robust learning environments for all students. For example, public charter Rainier Valley Leadership Academy in Washington state offers students an anti-racist environment where teachers reflect the diversity of its scholars, including a decolonized social and emotional development curriculum that prepares them for college and career.

Some schools are finding creative ways to enable greater opportunity for all students. Academia Avance, an independent charter in northeast Los Angeles, offers what’s called the “Life Prep Program” to a student body that is majority Latino and is overwhelmingly from lower-income families. Through a partnership with UnidosUS, Avance provides students with early college and career exposure, both cultural norms that many students might otherwise take for granted. The school’s unique partnership facilitates teaching and learning conditions, so each student find their right fit, resulting in three-quarters of its graduates being college bound.

Public schools that are engaged in innovative teacher training and family-schools-community partnerships offer other examples. As the only dual-language school in southern Arizona, Mexicayotl Academy of Excellence has partnered with higher education programs to create a training pipeline for current and future teachers. Attracting educators trained in transformative social justice, intercultural, and humanistic approaches, over 90 percent of teachers and administrators at Mexicayotl are people of color, which reflects the overall Mexicayotl student body.

Elko Institute for Academic Achievement in Nevada, and Early College Delaware State University in Delaware have adopted a Community in Schools approach to addressing equity within their public charter schools. In partnership with local, nonprofit organizations, CIS provides students and their families with access to food, health care, afterschool programs, counseling and housing supports, as well as workforce development for parents. Because CIS partners are embedded within schools, bringing community resources into schools creates the conditions that empowers student learning, interrupting patterns of inequality in education.

Without a doubt, a range of public schools are working hard to ensure students are afforded opportunities for a great public education by putting the needs all students first. However, prioritizing equitable learning and educational outcomes through these kinds of innovative opportunities requires policies that create the systemic change to support it.

While not a new debate, more investment in public schools is simply needed. President Joe Biden recently laid out his budget priorities. Now Congress must act to increase funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for Title I Schools with large concentrations of low-income students and the Charter Schools Program. Investing more to promote the well-being of students with disabilities and homeless children and youth under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act and the McKinney-Vento Act, among other targeted programs, is also needed.

Supporting more equitable educational opportunities for students of color, students from low-income families and other historically undeserved students is critical to connecting public schools with economic recovery and inclusive growth. Policy change should enable school systems to truly innovate and distribute resources geared toward new ideas implementation in service of equitable education outcomes.

The combined health, economic and social crises have exposed systemic inequities, laying bare that too many students today aren’t getting a fair shot at a great education. Now more than ever, we need to do everything we can and use every tool we have to give all students an opportunity to succeed. Increasing funding for public education and incentivizing new ideas that lead to real changes in meeting each child’s needs is only the beginning for our students. But enabling public school systems that fight for equitable education outcomes by truly putting the needs of students first seems well-deserved.

 

Baionne Coleman is CEO and principal of Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, located in South Seattle. Nina Rees is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Rainier Valley Leadership Academy and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools receive financial support from the Charter Schools Program. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools advocates on behalf of the Charter Schools Program.

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