Racial equality in our schools and communities is elusive, but a work in progress. The achievement gap is real and it has not budged significantly for the half century since Dr. King delivered his famous speech. On Sunday, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be dedicated to the American people in Washington D. C.
The dedication event takes place 48 years to the day of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This famous speech was written and delivered with the goal of ending racial inequality. For this goal to be realized, schools must become the beacon of racial equality. We have come so far, but we as a people who have dreamed big, must go much farther toward the goal to end racial injustice in our schools and communities—a major goal of my career and campaign for school board.
The etymology and meaning of the phrase “racial achievement gap” is a very complex social issue that is contentious by its very nature. This past weekend I was engaged in a discussion with other elected officials about the need to perhaps soften the tone of the issue by using opportunity gap or achievement gap over racial achievement gap. All are proper terms in my view, however, as a society we must keenly understand the issues on how race intersects with success in and out of school for African American and Latino youth.
Last week, I had lunch with my former administrative colleagues from when I was principal at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto. One of my former assistant principal colleagues said that I put a target on my chest for the words I use on SJI to describe my thoughts and positions on education. He stated that if I was concerned about being elected again in November 2012, I should soften my voice.
As a former English teacher, he was explaining ways to say the same thing but not using words that inflame the passions of conservative bloggers. Perhaps he is right, but I told him I choose not to moderate my words in order to get more votes.
I was very fortunate to win this elected seat to Area No. 4 on the Santa Clara County Board. My elected position on the SCCOE Board of Education affords me an opportunity to have a voice and a vote about issues that improve the quality of the educational system for all students. Through this column and electronic newsletters, I try to keep my constituents informed about my positions. Other than on SJI, I mostly receive positive feedback.
MLK in his famous 1963 speech said, “I have a dream that my four little children one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” My goal is to be respectfully and appropriately “loud” about an educational community where equity and equality are not sacrosanct for each and every child.
The facts are stark and our work to “Build the Dream” must be re-energized. This new national monument to MLK is a great opportunity for us to do just that.
There are a disproportionate number of African Americans in special education programs in schools in Santa Clara County, California and the nation. According to a report to Congress a decade ago, African Americans make up 14.8 percent of the general population, but 20.2 percent of those students were in special education classes.
We must look at placing a proportional number of African American and Latino youth in Gifted and Talented Education programs, honors and AP classes when they qualify based on education code or local policy. Today, in too many of our schools and districts, the numbers for African American and Latino youth are not close to proportional.
A higher percentage of the most effective teachers work in districts with fewer African American and Latino youth. Through good, intentional work we can address this issue head-on.
In California, while making up only 6 percent of the general population ,African Americans make up 29 percent of the total prison population. And African Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 5,525 per 100,000 population, while 1,146 Latinos are incarcerated per 100,000 in total population. This is in contrast 671 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites, and 43 for Asians per 100,000 population.
Schools must look at the percentage of suspensions and expulsions and the race and ethnicity of those suspended and expelled as a ratio to the general population. We must look at helping school systems like Rocketship Education bring their informed work and model to help seed instructional programs that eliminate the achievement gap in school districts where the racial achievement gap is high and unchanged over time.
As we in Santa Clara County continue to work toward MLK’s dream, let’s rededicate ourselves to the work in schools. The goals of SJ 2020 must become a reality. As we do the work, we must heed MLK’s words from 1956: “Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”