Separate but (un)Equal

Back to School!  That sweet September sight of brand new backpacks, fresh haircuts, and packed yellow buses.  Breathe it in – it’s an exciting time!  Full of possibilities, ambitions, and unbridled potential.

For whites.

While acknowledging that racial equality has made substantial progress in the 50 years since MLK made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, let’s examine 5 ways in which schools and education are still skewed by race.


1.     Segregation still exists in schools

Though 59 years ago segregation was outlawed in the Supreme Court’s decision, Brown v. Board of Education, today we still see White schools and non-White schools.  This is part of a broader problem that entails segregation and herding of minorities into low-income geographic tracts.  Why is this a problem?  As was argued by the Brown court, ‘Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal’ – herding minorities into minority-only schools, in minority-only districts keeps generations of families in a poverty trap.

2.     Where are the black teachers?

Segregation also exists at the teacher level.  Blacks make up almost 14% of the population but less than 7% of the teachers.  Even within the legions of black teachers, they are disproportionately represented in schools where the children are far poorer:  at schools where less than 34% of K-12 students are given free or reduced-price lunches, less than 6% of the teachers are black or Hispanic, whereas at schools where more than 75% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, over 33% of the teachers are black or Hispanic.  This not only negatively affects the children – it represents a system of limited opportunities for teachers of color.

3.     Standardized testing

Standardized testing in the US is racially skewed, putting people of color at a disadvantage.  As described in an article published in Time last year , ‘The recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education pointing out that black and Latino students in New York score below whites and Asians on standardized tests so consistently that although they are almost 70% of the overall student body, they are only 11% of students enrolled at elite public schools.’

Once again, this perpetuates a cycle of poverty.  Some say that education is a pathway out of poverty – but if it is impossible to receive a good education because the tests to be admitted to good schools are skewed away from children living in poverty, how can one possibly escape?

texas textbook

4.     ‘Winners write history’, but whites write the textbook

Especially whites in Texas: ‘National publishers usually cater to its (Texas’) demands because the school board is probably the most influential in the country. Texas buys 48 million textbooks every year. No other state, except California, wields that sort of market clout.’

You know what – this concept is an article in itself.  I can’t even get into it without exploding into a ball of fury.  Read this:

5.     Setting the bar too low 

That starts in schools, continues into every facet of adult life.  We should expect more from our schools, more from the teachers, and from the students, but we have to give them a chance!  In another article, I’d like to illustrate some proposals that try to address the vast achievement gap between whites and minorities in the US – an achievement gap that is built into the system, though Brown v. Board supposedly scrubbed them off the books.

Thanks for reading.