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    Policy experts discuss education in the new Jim Crow era

    After decades of desegregation efforts, federal civil rights laws, and other attempts to close the achievement gap, a high quality education remains an elusive goal for most Black children.

    In an effort to engage Black parents around reaching that elusive goal, educators and community stakeholders tackled leadership, educational equity and policy in urban schools, during a recent panel discussion.

    Led by moderator Linda Tillman, professor emeritus of education leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the panel discussed the challenges faced by African American teachers and leaders, as they work to educate Black children and young adults in urban communities.

    “We are here to revisit old discussions and bring fresh ideas,” Tillman said. “Jim Crow has affected Blacks in so many ways. Black education is a right [that’s] not solely based on White norms.”

    Panelist Terri Watson, a City College of New York (CCNY) educator and co-creator of the CCNY-based “Growing Our Own Doctor’s Project,” said that there’s not only a need for better education, but that there’s also a need for safer communities for Black students.

    “We have to focus on creating space where kids are informed and active, that’s important,” Watson said. “We have to let the kids know that the world is waiting for them, they’re up next and we have to change their mindset that the world views them as disposable.”

    Rodney Hopson, a professor and associate dean of education psychology at George Mason University, Sonya Douglass Horsford, an associate professor of education leadership at the Teachers College at Columbia University, and M. Christopher Brown II, the president of Kentucky State University also participated in the panel that took place during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference.

    Both Brown and Horsford, longtime friends, said the majority of public schools are now non-White. The proliferation of charter and alternative schools has also chipped away at the effectiveness of public schools.

    The federal government has played such a major role in shaping education policy and schools now mostly prepare African Americans for prison, not college, Brown said.

    “The school’s structure that’s used is that they teach our kids how to stand in a straight line, to raise their hands when they have to go to the bathroom…you do that in prison, so that’s the training they’re getting,” Brown said.

    He then quoted what he said was a prophetic statement made by W.E.B. Du Bois 57 years ago.

    “[African American] teachers will become rarer and in many cases will disappear,” Brown said quoting Du Bois, noting that the prediction has come to pass.

    Brown continued, quoting Du Bois: “[African American] children will be instructed in public schools and taught under unpleasant if not discouraging circumstances. Even more largely than today, they will fall out of school, cease to enter high school, and fewer and fewer will go to college.”

    Horsford, like the other panelists, said no one should be surprised, because, after all, resegregation has occurred and education is the “new civil rights in the new Jim Crow.”

    “We shouldn’t operate from the assumption that our schools are broken,” she said. “They are doing exactly what they were designed to do, which is to sift and sort children into different categories for economic reasons.”

    Horsford added that African Americans must tap the potential, possibilities and gifts of the young people who truly hold the answers to society’s pressing problems.

    Even educators have suffered and are poorly valued in a system guided by high-stakes testing and performance-based accountability, Horsford said.

    “We have to engage in parallel efforts…we need to reimagine schools and school systems that support everyone,” said Horsford. “We also have to make sure that, in the meantime, we are preparing students to not only survive, but also thrive in an era of extreme inequality.”

    By Stacy M. Brown
    NNPA Newswire Contributor

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    COMMENTARY: Not every child is going to be a scientist or doctor. Educate them still.

    I am a former teacher. I taught for 25 years in the public school system and have held various titles in the field of education throughout my 40-year career. I have always had a passion for education. My family and I joke that I have been teaching since the first day of kindergarten. My older sister also wanted to be a teacher. So, we would spend our evenings “playing school” with our many siblings and neighbors. Because of our productive “pretend play” I began school already reading and writing. I remember printing the alphabet with pride. By the time I reached third grade I was reading everything I could get my hands on and helping my classmates read as well. In fact, the only time I was reprimanded was when I tried to help a classmate pronounce names during her social studies report on current events.

    I shared that time during my childhood, because it is important for educators to understand that children begin school on various levels. Children develop and retain information differently. Some students begin school ahead of the pack. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure all children, irrespective of their initial academic level continue to make progress.

    Unfortunately, most students are not progressing at an appropriate pace. The reauthorized, national education law, Every Student Succeeds Act, grants states the freedom to develop their own academic standards and measures of accountability so long as those standards prepare students for college and career readiness. State academic standards can include a wide range of subject areas; in contrast to the previous emphasis on reading and mathematics. To support the academic achievement of students with varied academic ability, background, and socioeconomic status, it is vital that educators refrain from the one-size-fits-all model of instruction promoted during No Child Left Behind.

    To improve academic achievement, we must reflect on our stated mission: to educate all children. Not every child is going to be a mathematician. Not every child is going to be a scientist or doctor. However, every child is born with specific gifts and talents. It is up to us, as parents and educators, to help each child develop those specific talents. In a family of six children, each of my siblings had a different area of interest. One became a medical doctor, another a mathematician, still another, an engineer; there are two former teachers, and a law enforcement officer. We were all expected to excel in our respective fields, and we did.

    Success comes in many forms. A successful student is allowed to pursue his/her natural talents and encouraged to learn the skills needed to be a productive citizen. Had my siblings and I been limited to reading and mathematics, we probably wouldn’t have been as successful; not in our careers or personal lives. To improve academic achievement, let’s first equip teachers with the skills to recognize the natural talents that support and encourage academic achievement. School systems must realize that tests only measure a finite set of skills and that skills do exist outside of those measured. Academic achievement is improved when we recognize the differences in children and embrace them rather than trying to put every child in the same, square box. Academic achievement is improved when parents take the initiative to advocate for their child’s needs from the womb all the way through college graduation and the start of their careers.

    Who is responsible for improving academic achievement? All of us. Get engaged, go to the meetings, participate in the professional development, take part in the free webinars, read the articles on education in your local newspapers, and be a voice in your child’s education.

    If you are looking for tips on how to get involved, or where to go to attend meetings, visit www.nnpa.org/essa.

    Elizabeth Primas, Ph.D., is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her @elizabethprimas.

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