In February we celebrate Black History Month by remembering the work and legacy of great educators. Heroines such as Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a courageous teacher who spoke out against Jim Crow laws in the 1900s, were instrumental in advocating for equality for minority students. Moving from the past into the present, more needs to be done to secure and increase access to quality education. Continuing the work that was started long before us is vital to ensuring our young people become the new writers of history.
Half a century ago, Brown v. Board of Education legally ended the notion of “separate but equal.” This landmark ruling ordered the desegregation of schools across America. Since then, countless reforms, including No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards initiative–which I discuss in Education Wednesday: Understanding the Common Core Debate–have been implemented to create more rigorous educational standards for all students with the intention of leveling the academic playing field for minority and poor students.
In spite of these efforts, achievement gaps in educational attainment and life outcomes have widened between minority and white students. In 2010, 68% of African American and 61% of Hispanic students graduated from high school–compared to 79% of white students who graduated. The gap widens even further when addressing college graduation.
As the need for quality education transcends color lines and class status, the barriers that continue to hinder minorities from higher educational attainment must be removed before true equality in education can be realized.
3 Reforms Vital to Achieving Equality in Education
Restructuring education funding: In many states, schools receive funding based on the number of students enrolled, in addition to money from local tax bases. For smaller districts and low-income areas, this often means that funding and resources available at schools are greatly lacking in comparison to wealthier communities. As discussed in a Washington post article, parents and teachers in states such as Texas have faced long, and often unsuccessful, legal battles urging officials and local government to appropriate educational funding in a way that addresses the needs of all students regardless of their zip code.
Increasing school choice options: Restructuring educational funding could also increase the options available to parents to send students to the school that best meets their child’s needs. The emergence of tax credit scholarships and school vouchers in some states has greatly increased access to private schools and even better preforming public schools that were once unavailable to low-income families. Continuing to expand school choice, from college and career-focused charter schools to online home-schooling, will greatly improve access for all students to quality education. However, this is only possible where states support these options, and pass proper legislation.
Increasing access to internet and technology: Only 12% of underrepresented minorities enter college pursuing degrees in fields such as engineering. Meanwhile an estimated 3 million STEM jobs go unfilled. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Why You Should Know More About STEM, increasing exposure to technology early is absolutely necessary to changing this trend. However, as The Atlantic reports, access to internet and other web-based tools is disproportionate across household income and educational attainment levels. First-generation students and low-income families are less likely to have internet in their homes, significantly impeding their academic achievement and future career options, earnings, and personal wealth investments such as buying a home.
The struggle for a quality education continues to be real for minorities. Recently in Ohio, an African-American mother was sentenced to 5 years in prison for falsifying documents to enroll her child in a better performing school. The notion that some parents must “steal” education to even the playing field for their young ones is shameful and highlights the glaring educational inequalities in America.
Influential figures from history, such as Mary McLoud Bethune, who co-founded the all girls school Bethune-Cookman University and worked for the New Deal Administration, recognized the importance of education to social mobility for minorities. Unfortunately, education is a privilege for some rather than a right for all. We as parents, mentors, and teachers must continue to be engaged in schools and our communities until equality in education is obtained so that our children realize their dreams of a better life.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How are you working towards equality in education?