Tag Archives: Racism

The Black Lives Matter Education Platform Is Part of a Bigger Conversation

Last week, a collective of organizations engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement published two policy briefs (here and here) which together articulate an education platform. Although Black Lives Matter crystallized into a cultural force after several well-documented incidents of police violence, it has never been a single-issue movement. For many Americans, critical analyses of public schools have never lived very far away from conversations about racism, policing, and the fundamental role of government.BLM

In many education circles, these conversations became open and explicit with the introduction of  “school resource officers.” A school resource officer is an on-duty police officer assigned to a school campus. These positions ballooned after the Columbine tragedy, ostensibly to protect students in the event of another attempted school shooting. That hasn’t worked out as designed, and although there are stories of heroism, they’re dwarfed by the ongoing incidents of mass violence with student casualties. Unfortunately, the presence of school resource officers on campus has also meant that every discipline problem (even fake burping) can quickly escalate to an arrest.

And just like formal policing outside of the school gates, the unofficial policing of behavior on campus shows markers of racism and bias. Black students, both boys and girls, are disproportionately suspended and expelled. For a school, that might be the end of the story, but for a young person and their family, it’s likely just the latest in a series of disruptive encounters with agencies supposedly tasked with protecting and caring for them.

This new Black Lives Matter education platform acknowledges the central role that schools play in communities today and that they are woven into the fabric of families’ lives. Education, policing, and criminal justice are in constant interplay, and none of them function independently of the others. Some of the policy wonks among us might take issue with the particulars of the recommendations — and that’s fair — but the platform should be read in its intended context, and policy debates should be informed by an understanding of the complex relationships among these public agencies.

What Should An “Empowering Girls of Color” Initiative Look Like?

Improving education for low-performing groups of students shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. DC Public Schools (DCPS) have drawn attention (some of it negative) for their Empowering Males of Color initiative, which includes a new all-boys high school. But girls of color need specialized supports, too, in DCPS and nationwide. The graduation rate for black girls in DCPS is 20 percentage points lower than that of white students.

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Photo by Noah Scialom

What should a high-quality support system for girls of color look like? DCPS shouldn’t open an all-girls high school across the street from the boys’ school and call it a day. Here are some focus areas for DCPS and other school systems to consider:

  • Support girls of color in STEM and CTE. Black girls are less likely to take AP courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, and less likely than white men or white women to graduate college with a degree in a STEM field. In recent NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy results, girls beating boys by three points made headlines, but black and Hispanic girls still lagged behind white boys and girls by 20-30 points. Schools should encourage girls to take advanced courses in STEM subjects and enroll in career and technical education (CTE) programs linked to high-earning careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.
  • Confront racial and gender bias in school discipline. Racial gaps in school discipline impact all students of color, but boys and girls experience it differently. In DC schools (including charter schools) in 2011-12, 13% of black girls received out-of-school suspensions vs. 1% of white girls and 2% of white boys. While good data on discipline causes are scarce, researchers suggest that girls of color are more likely to be punished harshly for minor behavioral issues, such as dress code violations. More data on discipline by race and gender are needed, as are better school policies and resources to show educators how to respond to behavioral challenges fairly.
  • Enhance pregnancy prevention and support for teen parents. Teen pregnancy and parenting are cited as key factors among 38% of black girls and 36% of Hispanic girls who leave school. In DC, efforts to reduce teen pregnancy have been very successful, and the number of teen births fell by 20% from 2009 to 2012. DC is already doing more than many jurisdictions to prevent pregnancy and keep teen parents in schools: comprehensive sex education is the norm, condoms are available in all high schools from the school nurse and student volunteers, educational programs aimed at supporting teen parents are available in DCPS high schools, and the DC Department of Human Services sponsors pregnancy prevention education in afterschool programs.
  • Acknowledge other family responsibilities. Girls are more likely than boys to be responsible for caring for younger siblings or other family members. This kind of care is not as well-documented as teen pregnancy, but it can be just as stressful. DC has the most expensive childcare in the country, and struggling working parents have to rely more on informal care, like teen sisters. Policymakers should expand the availability of high-quality affordable child care, and school leaders should allow for more flexible attendance/scheduling policies, transportation assistance, and other educational supports for girls who need to get their siblings to school or help siblings with homework.
  • Target bullying and sexual harassment that disproportionately affects girls. Girls cannot learn successfully if they feel unsafe. A national survey by AAUW found that 56% of girls in grades 7-12 experienced some kind of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year. And girls from low-income families were more likely to stay home from school in response to harassment. Girls also experience bullying in ways that may be less visible: girls are more likely to be the victims of cyber-bullying and relational bullying (where someone is ostracized or gossiped about, rather than being directly confronted). School policies on bullying and sexual harassment should address these different experiences, and educators should be trained to recognize signs of distress and trauma in girls.
  • Break out the data. One of the most basic things all states can do is publish easily accessible “cross-tabs” of key achievement metrics, so communities can see how boys and girls are performing across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Separate data on gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity tend to be more accessible, but going deeper, to look at black students by gender or gender groups broken out by socioeconomic status, is not common or consistent even though state data systems would support it.

Schools should intervene to help students who are struggling most, and in most school systems, that means supporting boys of color; initiatives like Empowering Males of Color could be a good start. But girls of color need unique supports, too. If schools go the route of gender-differentiated strategies to close racial achievement gaps, they should articulate plans for both boys and girls. This is not a meaningless gesture to give the appearance of fairness, it’s about recognizing that intersections of race and gender and lots of other factors can affect students in different ways and demanding strategies that are responsive to students’ experiences. This can have real positive effects on student learning — just don’t leave girls out of the picture.

Charleston, Black Weariness, and White Allyship

I am tired. I am weary. Welcome 2 my world.

via www.writerightwords.com

Another tragic racially motivated hate crime has taken place, this time at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the wake of too many brutal shootings of unarmed black men captured on video and thus exposed to the world, the event in Charleston elicited a range of reactions: outrage, grief, solidarity, disgust, resolve. But a common sentiment of weariness has emerged in many of the articles and commentaries that I’ve read.

Singer Solange Knowles poignantly expressed her fatigue this way:

To some degree, the recent spate of highly publicized race-based tragedies has elicited weariness in anyone invested in social equity. Waking up to these headlines is emotionally draining. But there’s a stark difference between the exhaustion experienced by people of color and whites that deserves attention if we are to find motivation to move forward together in these moments.

Tawnya Denise Anderson, a Presbyterian minister and author of this fantastic post, puts it this way:

I wish I could help non-Black folks understand what it’s like to be inundated with stories and experiences like this. It scars the psyche. You go from anger and indignation to depression and dejection and back and forth and back again until you’re inevitably numb. When news of Kalief Browder’s suicide broke, many of my White friends expressed their anger about it and the system that facilitated it. I told them they could be angry all they wanted. As for me, I’m exhausted.

This expression of collective weariness reminded me of a candid conversation with a colleague about our reactions to the Michael Brown shooting. She expressed her experience confronting and then battling racism this way, “I’m sick and tired. And then I get sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Race: An Uncomfortable Necessity for Education Leaders

Dialogue by Pedro Paricio

Dialogue by Pedro Paricio via Halcyon Gallery

When I’m in a professional setting and I see a conversation about race materializing, my heart beats faster and I become acutely tuned into the room’s social dynamics. My whiteness is top of mind. I interrogate my observations and comments before sharing them. I load my statements and questions with qualifiers the way you might pack a fragile vase to be shipped cross-country by freight.

And I shipped truckloads of freight on Tuesday night.

Education Pioneers (EP) hosted an alumni event called Black Lives Matter to the Education Community, where I joined about 20 education leaders representing EP’s diverse network to reflect independently and engage in small- and large-group “courageous conversations about race” prompted by the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

It’s my understanding that the event was first-come-first-served, so the demographics were largely a function of chance. Even so, the room was fairly racially diverse, although there were fewer black attendees than I would have expected considering the topic.

The Education Pioneers’ program team is full of expert facilitators so it wasn’t surprising to see a thoughtful agenda that began with introductions and brief check-ins on everyone’s feelings and expectations for the evening. “Eager,” “vulnerable,” “nervous,” and “open” were common sentiments.

But even with the best facilitation and when everyone’s part of a trusted and familiar professional network, there’s always a fair bit of hesitation to dive into a discussion about race with semi-strangers. Raising issues about race in a professional setting can be fraught with risks including personal discomfort, poorly received messages, and marginalization. As a result, public dialogue tends to be academic in nature and disassociated from lived experiences and feelings. In general, this was the tenor of the conversation on Tuesday too, but there were moments when people left their comfort zone to share their perspectives. In those moments, the room seemed quieter and participants were more reverent, sensing that something uncommon was happening.

“How incredible would it be,” I thought, “if these moments were the rule instead of the exception.”

I’ve recently vowed to be more proactive and vocal around issues of race and class in my work and am always looking for patterns, barriers, and opportunities to improve myself, my colleagues, Bellwether, and our clients. So here are my three big takeaways from the night:

Continue reading