By Contributor on April 04, 2014

By Matt Haney

We need to address the racial disparities in our schools.

New survey data released by the Department of Education reveals a frightening and stark picture of the depth of these inequities.

Black students, including preschoolers, are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. Black and Latino students tend to have teachers who are lower paid and less experienced. These students are also much more likely to have less access to college preparatory courses.

Most Americans believe that public schools should provide a path to success for all students who “work hard” and “play by the rules.” But the sad truth is that structural barriers create an opportunity gap that has a significant impact on outcomes.

When a black or Latino student goes to a school where they are more likely to get suspended than tutored, and with grossly inadequate access to college prep classes, it should be no surprise that this has a huge impact on his or her life chances.

And for a country that desperately needs a highly skilled, competitive work force, this reality isn’t just unfair and immoral; it also imperils our economic prosperity.

These inequities impact all of us, regardless of our income or the color of our skin.

So what can we do?

President Obama recently proposed a $300 million “Race to the Top” initiative toward closing the opportunity gap. And his administration issued guidance to schools on how to modify their discipline policies.

States are also taking action. California implemented a “weighted student formula” to provide more support for schools that serve largely disadvantaged students.

Many of these efforts are laudable, and should be supported. But they are not enough.

It is time we reflect as a nation on whether we are being honest enough about the extent of the challenge, and whether we’re even using the right vocabulary to take it on.

Much of the national focus has been on “education reform,” a term which might suggest that our schools just need a bit of tinkering. And often it is used as a Trojan horse for privatizing public education.

But these so-called reforms fail to get at the deeper issues, including an overreliance on high-stakes testing, attacks on employee protections, and systems of competition creating winners and losers.

What we urgently need is a focus not on education reform, but on education transformation. To truly transform our schools and root out structural economic and racial inequities, we need a new way of thinking and talking honestly about the depth of the problem.

A renewed national conversation around education transformation can hopefully bring us closer to addressing the core issues: underfunded schools with undersupported staff, a relevant and engaging 21st century curriculum accessible to all and a head-on assault on concentrated poverty.

Until that happens, we’ll have one survey after another that shows us slipping, rather than getting ahead.

 

Matt Haney is a commissioner on the San Francisco Board of Education and a lecturer at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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