Let me start with a caveat. I am not a writer, nor will I ever claim to be.
What I am is a first grade math teacher in one of the largest public school districts in America.
The racial disparity in our education system has deep-rooted connections to the past. I could spend a lifetime debating how race and politics have dragged black culture and youth into a seemingly endless cycle of violence, ignorance and confusion, but what matters most is what’s happening in our classrooms now and how the system seems is set up to leave no *white* child behind.
Our greatest flaws? Educational negligence and an unbalanced system of punishment for students.
The Children Left Behind
In 2001, congress passed what we now know is a failed system called No Child Left Behind. It requires states to develop standardized assessments on a certain set of required skills.
To receive federal school funding, states must give these assessments to all students — which has created a structure of neverending testing, even for students in the preschool years.
In a large number of districts, these tests have an impact on teacher pay. When test scores are tied to funding increases, districts will do what they can to bring money in.
The achievement gap between white and minority students has increased tremendously. While the reasons for this increase may be debatable, what’s clear is that there is a gap.
No Child Left Behind has provided public school districts with monetary incentives to relocate lower-achieving students out of general education classroom to special education settings, behavioral units or alternative schools.
Such an emphasis is placed on test scores that many teachers — even if subconsciously — only teach for testing. The days of teaching for growth and knowledge are long gone.
Educators are giving up on minority students because they are not paid or incentivized to perform what they deem “miracles” in the classroom. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, unsupported by administration, and ill-prepared to face the challenges that low socioeconomic minority students may bring.
The easiest way out? Creating zero-tolerance discipline policies.
Punitive Punishment and the Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline
The Department of Education’s Secretary, Arne Duncan stated, “The fact that the school-to-prison pipeline appears to start as early 4-year-olds, before kindergarten, should absolutely horrify us.”
Last March, department published a report stating that black students are expelled at three times the rate of their white counterparts. The survey also found widespread racial disparities in how children are punished, beginning as early as preschool — that’s children three to four years old!
NPR’s Claudio Sanchez recently reported:
The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights looked at 15 years’ worth of data and found what it called a pattern of inequality in how students are disciplined, whether they have good teachers or not and whether they have access to a full range of academic offerings. But the most glaring headline was this. Almost half of all preschool children who are suspended more than once are black, even though black students make up less than a fifth of the preschool population.
Districts — rather, administrators — are pushing out uneducated (bad test-scorers), misbehaved minority students in order to boost test scores for funding increases.
After all, districts are happy to claim a diverse rainbow of racial demographics, until they start losing federal funding. Then your 4-year-old is suddenly expelled from preschool for pushing another child on the playground (isn’t that what 4 year olds do?).
Until the Department of Education — and all its 97,000 public school systems — stop focusing on reporting numbers and statistics on minority disparities, and instead focus on fixing them, we’ll never progress as a country.
Why are we not collectively appalled that there are reports on the preschool-to-prison pipeline? Wake up America.
Simple Solutions for a Better Tomorrow
So where do we go from here?
What the American education system desperately needs is improved mentorship for minority students, a decrease in standardized testing, and more counseling opportunities for all kids.
But most of all, we need a system that refuses to throw its children away, even when the going gets tough.