We Have to Get Education Right for Black Students and Families in 2020

I’m just going to get straight to the point. In 2020—and beyond—we have to get education right for Black students and families. Point blank and period.

I don’t subscribe to the “new year, new me” mantra anymore because I recognize change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, I’m a  practitioner of consistency—knowing that change takes time and is possible with determination, constant practice and conviction.

But in some cases, the “new year, new me” mantra is still applicable because some changes absolutely have to be made with urgency. 

Sometimes Consistency Doesn’t Cut It

In the context of our public education system, the practice of consistency has worked—but only to intentionally obstruct our kids’ academic success. This broken system has lied to, cheated, belittled and abused Black students and families. The blatant belief that Black skin makes people inferior—and therefore, less deserving—is what’s contributed to the consistency of failure and overall indifference in supporting our academic success. 

So in this case, we can no longer allow the space and leeway for the system to get it right—we have to continue to apply pressure. And metaphorically speaking, the public school system needs a character assessment, a reset and it needs a “new year, new me” makeover. 

Now since there have been excuses on top of excuses as to why Black kids just can’t be educated, I’m going to lend a suggestion as to where to start.

Practice What You Preach

These days, I’m less concerned about policy and more concerned about practice. I’m not saying we should completely abandon efforts to push policies that promote an equal playing field for Black students, but we need to work doubly hard to ensure that the measures already in place are actually being practiced thoughtfully and consistently. 

Because in 2019 alone, almost everyone was throwing around the buzzwords “diversity,” “equity,” “inclusion” and “fairness” like they were dodgeballs—and instead of actually hitting their targets, policymakers and administrators missed the mark time and time again. Here are a few things that—if put into practice—would make a big difference:  

Educators of Color: When it comes to diversifying the field, how about actively recruiting and retaining more good, Black educators, counselors and administrators? The need is there and the streets are talking. 

I can’t tell you how many Facebook posts and Twitter threads I’ve come across where people recollect only having a few or no teachers of color throughout their academic career when over 50% of the public school population are students of color.

Teachers of color not only give students who grow up in predominantly White communities a better reflection of what the world actually looks like, but their presence also encourages Black students to enter the profession somewhere down the line. And not to mention the fact that having a Black educator actually enhances student performance.

Partner with organizations and leaders already doing the work. Superstar educator Sharif El-Mekki is already ahead of the game with his organization, The Center for Black Educator Development, and I’m sure he has a gang of ideas on how to grow this particular pipeline.

Equity: When it comes to equity, give low-income, Black students the resources they need to be as equally successful as middle-class, White students.

We know that because some Black students come from turbulent home environments and economically challenged communities, they’re already at a disadvantage when they walk into the school-house. But it doesn’t help their cause when they can’t get individual attention because their classroom is overcrowded and possibly even missing a teacher. 

Or maybe they’re unfairly disciplined for “acting out” because they’re disengaged, or the teacher doesn’t understand the dynamics of their life or their community and they have no social worker or counselor to talk with about their issues. And overall, they receive less per-pupil funding simply because they’re in a low-income community.

Parent and Student Voice: If inclusion and fairness are the goals, start listening to students and parents. 

The latter end of 2019 was outright sad. Black and Brown parents endured an onslaught of attacks while trying to voice their education concerns to Democratic presidential candidates. 

And to this day, those candidates are proceeding with their original agendas despite vocal opposition from those Black and Brown parents.

This isn’t anything new. These “leaders” and decision-makers have consistently dismissed the voices of people from marginalized communities while simultaneously petitioning for their support and their vote. We’re not having this anymore.

When it comes to determining the education policies and practices that will best benefit Black kids, Black parents must be at the table.

When it comes to figuring out what programs and curricula will be most engaging, student voice needs to be included. 

And when it comes to deciding which schools work best for our communities and which don’t, local parent and community groups that are actively involved in education have to be consulted.

There’s No Excuse

Y’all, it’s the year 2020. There’s no reason why only 15% of Black eighth graders are reading with proficiency. There’s no excuse as to why Black kids have the lowest national averages in math. And there’s no reason why their talents should be undermined and thrown away because of the color of their skin or where they live.

Our kids deserve a “new year, new me” opportunity, too. They deserve to go to school and sit in front of teachers who believe in their ability to succeed. To be represented by elected officials who are committed to advocating for their best interests. They deserve to be prepared for college and have access to the same opportunities as White students and students of any color. 

They deserve a chance. And that’ll only happen if this school system changes its ways and invests in their potential now.

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Tanesha Peeples

South Side community leader Tanesha Peeples is a Chicago Public Schools alumna and proud Englewoodian. She currently serves on the board of the Montessori School of Englewood. Formerly, she served the Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post, for whom she penned the long-running column Hope and Outrage. As an undergraduate student at Northern Illinois University, Tanesha began to develop a passion for and understand the importance of public service. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, she returned to Chicago with a new perspective on community, politics and civic engagement. Tanesha then attended and graduated from DePaul University with a master’s degree in public service management and urban planning and development. Throughout her professional career, Tanesha has used her education, passion and experience to navigate a number of nonprofit, political and independent ventures, advancing her mission to educate and empower marginalized populations. Prior to joining Education Post, she also managed her own consulting firm specializing in community relations. Tanesha’s vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or zip code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. Find her on Twitter at @PeeplesChoice85.