Is it time to get more social workers and guidance counselors into schools? Should we reimagine where school funding should go? Do we need to better scrutinize who is teaching our kids and what we’re teaching them? The racial inequities in America’s school system are real; they demand our full attention and bold solutions. It’s time for “Real Talk, Real Change.”
This special edition of The Carlos Watson Show, brought to you by our friends at Chevrolet, is personal for me — I’m the son and grandson of teachers and I have deep respect for the education system. But it’s time to roll up our sleeves and explore new strategies to empower our students and give every child the opportunity for equal education, no matter their race, gender, resources or zip code. In this new special, we hear from policymakers, educational professionals and students about what needs to change. Because aren’t our kids worth it?
What do kids today think about the role race plays in school and the education system? Students at Summit Sierra High School in Seattle tell OZY that Black and brown kids miss out on having role models and mentors who look like them. “It affects you," says student Merasia Jun Burke-Suzuki. “How can I be as great when there’s no one else there to look up to?” Bettina L. Love, an education professor at the University of Georgia, says, “Real education reform, that really gets at the most marginal in our society” is the only path toward real change.
Feeling physically safe is obviously important to creating the best environment for a student’s education, but shockingly, there is a disproportionate amount of school funding for security compared to funding for counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers. And when 2 out of 5 students say they feel unsafe with police officers in their school, who is really being protected? The amount of money spent on police and security “is so limiting, particularly in Black and brown classrooms,” explains Dr. Danielle Moss, CEO of Oliver Scholars. Is it time to defund the police in schools and steer more funds toward social workers and counselors?
New York City schools are experiencing a form of financial segregation. “Schools are funded based off of performances,” explains activist Chi Osse. “If a school isn't performing as well as another school … the funding that school receives is significantly less.” And the problem extends far beyond New York. “We’re one of the few countries in the world that systematically and deliberately spends less money to educate poor children than affluent children,” says University of Southern California education professor Pedro Noguera. Is it time to rethink how schools get funded and where that money goes?
Devoting greater resources to resolving problems in the education system is a good way to begin addressing race disparity in America’s schools, but there’s more that local and state governments can do to help. For starters, Republican strategist Mica Mosbacher suggests broadening the discussion and changing school curricula in terms of how Black history is taught — not limited to Black History Month but throughout the year. “I think these types of conversations ... are what is going to elevate the national conversation toward finding solutions to what is a very tough problem,” she says.
Education in America has been increasingly focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which inevitably pulls attention away from other subjects like languages and the arts. Does the shift risk overlooking the next great musical prodigy or world-renowned painter? “Who knows who could have been the next Jimi Hendrix because we’re telling them to go STEM,” says Keoke Silvano, a teacher at Summit Sierra. How can we make sure students are exposed to a broad array of subjects and given a chance to nurture those interests?
Across the country, despite the demographics, educators remain predominantly white, even though that’s not representative of America’s changing population. Dr. Ayanna Gore, the principal at Summit Sierra, admits that it’s tough “leading in a system that was not designed for people that look like me.” How do we encourage Black and brown students to consider a teaching career if they don’t have role models who look like them?
Ask parents, teachers and administrators today to rate the U.S. education system, and it likely won’t receive a passing grade. “I think education is not something that is a one-size-fits-all,” says the parent of a Summit Sierra student, “and I think our system in general is set up to be a one-size-fits-all industrial system.” With states and local governments banning ethnic studies, it appears America has a ways to go before it tackles the racial discrimination, financial inequities and other societal issues draining an education system that could and should be among the finest in the world.