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.
“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.
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:
- Urge state leaders to improve reporting and transparency of spending of federal pandemic relief funds. To help states and districts respond to COVID and support students, the federal government provided historic federal COVID-relief funds to states. While many states have outlined their plans for use of federal relief funds, there have been reports about a lack of transparency in how states and districts are actually spending funds. Black parents can hold policymakers accountable by calling on them to report how they are spending these vital funds. For states and districts that have not spent their funds, Black parents can urge policymakers to seek and incorporate community input in plans for spending relief funds.
- Advocate for state and district investment in culturally appropriate mental health services to support students. The human impact of COVID-19 on Black communities—and the resulting impact on Black student outcomes—cannot be minimized. Black communities have been disproportionately affected by rates of infection, death and economic loss stemming from COVID-19. As a result, many Black students have grappled with issues such as the death(s) of parents, elders and caregivers; housing and food instability due to job loss; juggling family responsibilities, such as caring for siblings or other family members; loss of educators; and racism (including highly publicized police killings of Black people), isolation, and stress. Black parents can encourage policymakers and district leaders to invest in mental health supports, including counselors, social workers, and social and emotional supports that help students build school connections. Instead of continued investment in school police—a demand that has increased since recent school shootings—investment in counselors and other mental health support can help students to cope with challenges and receive the support needed to thrive in school.
- Encourage district leaders to make targeted investments in school infrastructure and school safety improvements. Improvement of school infrastructure and facilities that promote student health and safety is vital for student achievement. Yet, many schools attended predominantly by Black children lack adequate facilities and are not suitable for learning. For example, at the start of the school year, many schools in Baltimore closed early due to heat and lack of air conditioning and the current water crisis in Jackson, Miss., highlights the urgent need to ensure that students have access to safe drinking water. States and districts can make basic investments in school infrastructure that can go a long way to provide students with safe and healthy earning environments where they can thrive.
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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