Still Separate / Never Equal

Educational achievement in the United States is marked by great racial disparity from start to finish. In kindergarten, black children have lower average test scores than white children. As they progress through school, more black students than white will be held back, fewer will graduate from high school and fewer will attain college degrees.

Those who would chalk this up to racial differences in intelligence or learning potential would be wrong. While these disparities have everything to do with race, they also have nothing to do with race. They are rooted in generations of unequal educational opportunities that are as intentionally race-based today as they were during the Jim Crow era.

The following examples come from Chicago Public Schools and the State of Illinois, but they are typical of school districts and state policies across the country:

• Of the $650 million CPS put toward new facilities in the past six years, about three-fourths went to schools where white students are overrepresented by at least twice their representation in the district overall.
• In 2013, 35 of 43 CPS school closings were in majority black or Latinx neighborhoods. Only seven were in majority white areas. About 90 percent of the students impacted were black.
• In Illinois, the poorest school districts get nearly $2,500 less per pupil than the wealthiest. Majority black schools are less likely to have up-to-date labs and textbooks, less likely to offer art, music, gifted and AP courses.
• Discipline and punishment are closely tied to race. Black students are expelled at 23 times the rate of whites. Black students are seven times more likely than white students to have their misconduct brought to the attention of the police.

These are not accidents or flukes. These and many federal, state and local policies and budget decisions like them create an educational system that over and over again gives to white people but withholds or takes from people of color. Throughout the United States, “on every tangible measure – from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings – schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students.” That is the only reason for disparities in attainment. When people of color do have access to equal educational opportunities, race is not a factor in achievement levels.

Confucius said, “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” To this we could add economic well-being, social mobility, health and longevity. Denial of education, on the other hand, breeds unemployment, poverty, prison and early mortality. And we all share responsibility for that. You don’t have to wear a white hood to practice racism. Our educational system is racism in peak form – deadly effective –  and every white person who doesn’t demand change is practicing racism right along with it.

It’s hypocritical to say, “I’m all for racial equality,” while simultaneously benefitting from a racist system. If racism is not your goal, don’t just turn away or move your kids to a better school – invest energy and money, and demand education reform. Otherwise, whatever your goal may be, your practice is racism.

Start here, here, or wherever you see unequal access to education.

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