The time for an urgent Black education dialogue, action is now

Michelle Harvey
Michelle Harvey is a #BlackEdChat fellow and vice president of National Expansion and Innovation for Learn4Life. – Photo courtesy of BlackNews





( – In recent years, our national discussion has experienced increased reporting on the troubled state of education for Black students in the K-12 space.

After sifting through “Project Implicit” data, Princeton researchers released a report confirming more of what was already suspected: Not only do Black students face higher rates of disciplinary action than their White peers, but those rates are most pronounced in counties plagued with high racial bias.

Brookings also confirmed that “… the change in student demographics will evolve at a slightly higher rate than the expected shift in the teacher workforce demographics. This means the underrepresentation of teachers of color will likely persist or even grow in the coming decades.”

Scandals brewed not only in illegal college admissions bribery schemes unveiled by federal prosecutors, but with outrage over a very small number of Black students admitted to New York City’s most selective and elite public schools. And let’s not forget the struggles of the Akron, Ohio mother of two daughters who served jail time plus probation for using her father’s address so her children could be in a better school district.

But the national discussion must transition into a time of needed planning for the future. Without education, there is little Black achievement. And without Black achievement, it’s difficult to envision a successful future for Black communities.

Missing from the broader or spotlighted national conversation is coordinated dialogue and action on the state of Black youth in grades K-12. It can’t be relegated to continuous headlines about achievement gaps and escapes from crumbling, inequitable school districts when there is little dialogue on solutions. It must be, instead, a starting point for an urgent discussion on the still many challenges Black children face in our schools today.

As that future is manifested in our children, national discussions are needed to consider the state of educational foundations and systems they find themselves in. At the heart of that discussion is a recommitment to their educational development.

Currently, it seems like there is little to celebrate. Public schools, particularly urban and other metropolitan districts with high concentrations of African American residents, are stuck in a routine of disarray. Young people suffer daily from institutional neglect, systemic inequities, inadequate learning methods and a constant cycle of bully-instigated violence from school yard to front door at home.

These problems present too many insurmountable obstacles to students of color, especially Black children. What is popularly referred to as an “achievement gap” functions more like an achievement fence. As a result, too many Black children are kept boxed into cycles of poverty, social immobility and incarceration. Too many Black children are kept out of circles of success and prosperity, a condition treated as normal. But it’s not. These are tragic conditions threatening the short-term and long-term outlook of entire generations of Black youth.

At 76 percent and 6.5 percent respectively, Black graduation rates are 12 percent lower than their White peers, with dropout rates a full two percentage points higher – and that doesn’t even include the percentage of freshmen who don’t graduate on time. Lack of diploma equates to a lack of passport needed for the essential social mobility towards adequate housing, comfortable incomes, and relative socio-economic freedom. Even worse, lower graduation rates also translate into incarceration rates that are five times higher than those of White students and incomes that are 50 percent lower.

Strides have been made. But as a 2018 Brookings’ study finds, we’re not sure if the data collected and shared by school districts are complete or honest. Students trapped in these cycles struggle to produce the outputs demanded of them. Many teachers fail at cultural competency, and school districts are wedded to standardized testing as the ultimate measurement.

Thus, there has been no consideration for the lack of inputs that leave them languishing in overcrowded, overheated/underheated and understaffed schools that are clearly without the infrastructure and supplies necessary for their learning. While White students are equipped to compete in the “Race to the Top,” Black students are finding themselves still forced to run in a race at the bottom.

But all of this can change if communities begin talking more about K-12 education versus reacting to it.

Black students should enjoy the higher standard of nurturing educational environments tailored to their current community realities and individual needs. One example that’s doing just that with nearly 50,000 students throughout California is the Learn4Life personalized public school model. The tailored approach, if expanded nationally, could be a norm as opposed to an exception. An honest reassessment and revolutionary overhaul of how we view and construct modern education systems can help African American youth proudly take their seats at the front of the class.

Teachers, especially when we’re encouraging a larger pool of well-trained Black teachers, can lead students of color into the doorways of colleges and universities. Schools servicing predominantly Black populations can be models of stability and success – if we come together and bring Black history into our Black present, to give students the promising Black futures they deserve.


Michelle Harvey is a #BlackEdChat fellow and vice president of National Expansion and Innovation for Learn4Life.


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