The pandemic wiped out years of academic progress for students. Here’s how Black parents can advocate for their children

OPINION: Instead of focusing on a “return to normal,” Black parents can urge policymakers and school leaders to act to make schools safer and more equitable places where Black children can achieve and thrive.

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“Learning loss,” “achievement gaps” and “recovery” dominated headlines last week with the recent news of a decrease in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) latest testing of the nation’s 9-year-olds—including the largest decline in reading in over three decades and the first decline in math scores in almost half a decade. Results show that Black students’ scores declined by 13 points in math, which can be equated to a year of schooling, compared to where Black students scored in 2020. Predictably, these headlines have also triggered panic about Black students’ educational outcomes.

Reliance on test scores can be a narrow way of measuring student progress and those scores are often relied on to support stereotypes of Black children as unable to achieve and incapable of performing as well as their white peers. However, as many Black parents know, these stereotypes are based on racist tropes, and they don’t account for discriminatory laws and policies that have shaped inequities that impact Black children’s educational experiences and outcomes. 

For example, research illustrates that school resources—particularly those like experienced educators, advanced courses, and quality facilities—impact educational outcomes. However, many school funding systems that rely on property tax revenue ignore how discriminatory practices like redlining (a practice of assigning Black neighborhoods lower property values) and segregation contribute to education funding disparities and, consequently, resource inequities between schools attended by Black students and those attended by white students. The pandemic worsened many of these longstanding resource inequities and exposed other inequities such as access to broadband

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Instead of focusing on a “return to normal,” Black parents can urge policymakers and school leaders to act to make schools safer and more equitable places where Black children can achieve and thrive. Here are some resources and recommendations for Black parents to consider as they advocate not just for recovery but for action to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of Black children: 

These few requests can help to put policymakers on a pathway to support vital school improvements that predated the pandemic. Instead of a focus on recovery, this policy window presents an opportunity to push for the kind of equitable educational opportunities that Black children deserve and that Black parents have fought long and hard to secure. 

Janel George is an Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. Her work and scholarship focus on racial stratification and inequality in U.S. education. She has written about the resegregation of public schools, discriminatory school discipline practices, Critical Race Theory, and resource equity. She has served as Legislative Counsel in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, during which time her legislative portfolio included child welfare, civil rights, and education issues. As a civil rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), she worked with several campaigns and coalitions to leverage legislative and policy advocacy to advance equal educational opportunity. She also helped to advance the federal policy work of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, including securing provisions related to promoting positive and inclusive school climates in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. She has also worked with non-profits on a variety of state and federal policy issues and has served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

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