Race and the Role of Schools in Shaping Community

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The conversations around race can be tense and difficult, but they must be addressed to improve schools, equality and society on a larger scale. A student named Ahmed Mohammed is an example of how preconceived notions of a person’s intentions based on their race can result in unnecessarily extreme and traumatic measures. After making a homemade digital clock for science class Ahmed was arrested on the spot because it was assumed he assembled a bomb. After being interrogated as a terrorist, as he explained, Ahmed and his family decided to withdraw from the school.
Santa Fe Public Schools has created a unique program, a districtwide Equity and Access Task Force, which is made up of members of various sectors of the community. The group’s focus is to SFPS eliminates racial and ethnic achievement and opportunity gaps by engaging families with courtesy, respect and cultural understanding.
Pictured above: Joel Boyd, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent.

Perceptions of Misbehavior

We know that misbehavior is often treated in very different ways for white, black and non-white students. Research shows that school staff respond to student misbehavior more or less harshly based on race perceptions.

Black students are more likely to receive harsher punishment for the same type of misbehavior and are more likely to be served suspensions, expulsions or referrals to law enforcement all measures that result in children being consumed by the criminal justice system. Alarmingly, the juvenile correction facilities that these kids are sent to can be designed as for-profit systems with cash incentives for developers.

Conversely, White children are more likely to be put into special education services and receive medical or psychological treatment for their misbehaviors. In order to fund special education services, schools often have to draw from their own resources. Which explains why low income area schools don’t have the option to send students to special education if they misbehave. Because of neighborhood defined school systems and the way school funding works, schools in poorer areas receive less funding than schools in wealthier areas, perpetuating inequality. Black students from poorer districts are funneled into the criminal justice system as a result of a lack of funding for special services in disadvantaged schools, which often have more children in need of these services, and more one-size-fits-all approaches to discipline.

School Funding

The National Education Association produced a video exploring the funding practices in the American school system. As states continue to underfund education, poor communities suffer. Funding could be bolstered, but with major corporate tax breaks – 10 of the nation’s most profitable corporations paid no state income taxes between 2008-2012 and earned 70.3 billion in profits – state funding for education is cut. The school finance formula is inextricably bound to proper value, students living in poor communities receive less funding than their wealthier piers. Driving impoverished communities into even deeper poverty.

Opt Out Movement

The Opt-out movement continues to stir civil rights groups who know opting out skews test score data. It’s impossible to fix what cannot be measured. Those who opt out are a small but growing percentage of students. Those hurt most by opting out are the poor and minority students. Achievement data is aimed to advocate for the schools and communities most in need.

School Funding & Real Estate

The current school funding system reinforces and divides schools district boundaries between rich and the poor. Keeping resources in wealthy communities while making it very difficult for low-income students to keep from accessing broad opportunities. This past June, the Supreme Court decided Texas v. Inclusive Communities Project, affirming that no government policy may create “artificial, arbitrary or unnecessary barriers” for minority individuals and families seeking quality housing in a good neighborhood. Yet barriers are created by the delineation of schools district boundaries. Where a student goes to school in the United States is still primarily determined by where their family lives. The current system ties school budgets to to the value of local property wealth and incentivizes boundaries between upper and lower income communities. This concentrates education funding within affluent schools and keeps low-income students from opportunities and upward socio-economic mobility.

Achievement Disparities Among Neighboring School Districts

An interactive map put together by EdBuild shows Census Bureau poverty rates in each of the nations 14,000 school districts. This is the first time a study has produced a visual of poverty in relation to schools districts. The map, shows concentrations of poverty along the Mississippi River in the Deep South and also stark disparities between affluent and the poor districts. Researchers see this map as a wakeup call that gerrymandering is as much a problem kids in public schools as it is for voters. In the case of education, boundaries are drawn to contain poor families rather than favor a certain political party.

High Graduation Rates in Chicago

Chicago has seen a double digit increase in the percentage of students graduating from high school. A student who passes ninth grade is almost four times more likely to graduate than one who doesn’t. Chicago was a pioneer of this freshman year strategy in 2007 setting forth initiates to get teenagers to finish their first year of high school. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of freshman in Chicago Public Schools making it to 10th grade grew by 7,000 students. Freshman graduation rates jumped to 84% in 2014 from 57% in 2007. The four year graduation rate jumped from 49% in 2007 to 68% in 2014. Nationally graduation rates are up, but Chicago’s double digit growth is note worthy. These are stand-out results in a school system with a low income of majority and shrinking funding.

Every Child Achieves & Student Success Act Debate

The No Child Left Behind Act, that expired in 2007 may be on its way to becoming fully defunct. The Senate recently debated its Every Child Achieves Act, an updated No Child Left Behind rewrite. The House of Representatives is doing the same with their version called the Student Success Act. It’s unclear what the final bill will look like exactly, but civil rights groups, politicians and teachers agree it’s time for an update. The new bill will maintain an emphasis on standardized testing while giving more control to states’ education policy. A criticism of these new bills in their current state is that they lack accountability measures.

Updating Vocational Programs

Vocational programs for high schooler students are teaching how electricity makes subway cars operate, how to build a model frame home, or programming a computer controlled model ski lift through hands on experiences and advanced academic courses. Students coming out of the programs are more engaged in their learning experience. And often end up pursuing college in fields like engineering. Internships, during high school allow students to see what careers are like before they leave high school. Vocational schools used to be an alternate to college that lead directly into jobs, but now some are designed to push kids towards college while giving them a more hands on experience and specialized focus during high school to help them explore their professional pursuits.

Humor as an Instructional Tool

Students ranked “sense of humor/ability to laugh” as the third highest motivating factor in the classroom. Research finds that humor in the classroom can be used a tool to facilitate retention of information, increase the speed of learning, improve problem solving, relieve stress, reduce test anxiety and increase student perception of teacher credibility. Sara Given, a music teacher shares her background as a young musician and comedian. And what she learned from comedy that crosses over into her classroom instruction practice.

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