Racially Diverse ‘New Majority’ Set to Reshape US Public Schools

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2016

America’s public schools are a snapshot of a changing America: Since 2014, for the first time in the country’s history, a majority of those in public schools have been students of color.

That’s more than just a statistic. The rise of this “new majority” promises to have sweeping effects on American schools over time. The voices and interests of these students and their parents will need to be better woven into the decision making that affects United States classrooms, many education experts say.

What’s their emerging message? In part it’s in keeping with the age-old desires of families everywhere: a good education in safe schools. But it’s also a call for greater equity in school quality–a longstanding sore spot in America’s education system that’s growing harder to ignore. And for some in this new majority, the definition of a good education includes shaping lessons that truly embrace diversity.

Consider just this one finding from a new poll of black and Latino parents: The sense of racial bias was so strong for some parents that a quarter of Latinos and a third of African-Americans agreed with the statement, “Schools in the US are not really trying to educate Black/Latino students.”

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“Will states and school districts rise to the occasion and build a K-12 public education system designed to address the educational needs of students of color? Or will they shirk their duty . . . and condemn a majority of public school students to a future with little to no promise?” asks Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, in a report on the poll results.

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Mr. Henderson’s group is the research and education arm of a large civil rights coalition, and sponsored the new poll for a report titled, “New Education Majority: Attitudes and Aspirations of Parents and Families of Color.”  The survey included 400 black and 400 Latino parents and guardians of school-age children, interviewed by phone in March by the polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research (ALG).

More than three-quarters in the poll said schools in low-income communities–often those with many African-American or Latino residents–receive less funding than schools in wealthy communities. Parents who believed there are racial disparities in the quality of education attributed it primarily to this lack of funding. The next two factors they pointed to: lower teacher quality and overall racial bias.

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But to truly engage with families in Latino and African-American neighborhoods to ensure equity will require a deeper dive into the subtext of the poll, said Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, a longtime teacher in largely Latino East Oakland, Calif., and a professor at San Francisco State University, during a panel discussion following the poll’s release April 11.

When parents of color call for “rigor” in education, for instance, they aren’t necessarily calling for more academic tests. “You can’t be engaged in academically rigorous education without being engaged in a culturally relevant education,” he said. “For us, the inclusion and centrality of valuing our culture, valuing our history . . . is by definition what we mean by academic rigor.”

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