Special Report
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay

Dismantling Systemic Racism in Schools: 8 Big Ideas

By Elizabeth Rich — September 23, 2020 4 min read
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The pandemic has changed everything, including exposing the deep fault lines in our nation’s schools. And the reality is that a growing number of Americans are refusing to stand for the systemic inequities in our country and our education system. To wit: In a nationally representative survey, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in June, 87 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders agreed that Black students face higher rates of school discipline than their white peers due to discrimination.

With the brutal killing of George Floyd in May, the Black Lives Matter protests surged, and America embarked on the largest movement in its history, according to an analysis by The New York Times. By some counts, nearly 10 percent of the nation’s adults—many of whom were white—marched, in rural communities and big cities alike in every state in the union.

Data: Anti-Racist Teaching: What Educators Really Think

Books about anti-racism dominated bestseller lists for months. Conversations changed. Students were activated in large numbers. And educators started to rethink their curriculum to promote Black Americans’ experiences and challenge the dominance of whiteness. A new awareness seemed to be emerging as the country began to reckon with its racist past.

And yet, when the EdWeek Research Center in August asked teachers if they had the training and resources necessary to teach an anti-racist curriculum, just 11 percent said they did.

So, even as educators see the need to equalize and improve the educational experience for Black students, they might not have the tools or the support to address curriculum, practices, and policies that have long denied Black students the same opportunities to thrive as their white peers.

That dissonance demands our attention. That’s why we chose to dedicate the entire issue of this Big Ideas special report to addressing anti-Black systemic racism in schools.

Below is a roundup of the report’s bold ideas—all of which the writers believe will lead to a more equitable education for Black students in both practice and policy.

We’re looking forward to hearing how you are working to create a better and safer educational experience for our nation’s Black students. Please connect with us on social media by using #K12BigIdeas or by emailing bigideas@educationweek.org.

1. Our public school system owes Black people reparations.

BRIC ARCHIVE

“Black Americans won’t reach true economic justice until our nation’s K-12 leaders fully confront and make amends for the public education system’s racist history,” writes Education Week’s Daarel Burnette II. Read more.

2. Self-reflection is painful and necessary.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Over the course of more than three decades, veteran reporter Debra Viadero, who is white, wrote more than 250 education stories for Education Week. She recruited three Black education scholars to review some of her coverage on achievement and opportunity. What did she learn? Read more.

3. Internet access is a universal right.

BRIC ARCHIVE

“Broadband access opens a gateway to generational progress that millions of Americans currently can’t enter,” Mark Lieberman, from Education Week, explains. Read more.

4. It’s time to end policing as we know it. (Opinion)

BRIC ARCHIVE

“We can only create safe spaces for students to learn with the full removal of SROs in schools and greater investments in counselors and therapists,” writes M’munga Songolo, a student from Portland, Ore. Read more, including the introduction by Education Week’s Corey Mitchell.

5. Teacher preparation programs must step up. (Opinion)

BRIC ARCHIVE

As part of building an anti-racist education system, teacher preparation programs have to completely abandon their current model and try something new, says Keziah Ridgeway, a teacher at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Read more, including the introduction by Education Week’s Madeline Will.

6. Students need anti-bias training, too. (Opinion)

BRIC ARCHIVE

“My fellow high school students need training in inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism,” writes Zoë Jenkins, a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky. “So I’m creating that training.” Read more, including the introduction by Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz.

7. Teachers need more than anti-racists resource lists.

BRIC ARCHIVE

“Teachers need to ask whose perspectives are at the core, who put them there, and why,” writes Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz. Read more, including Schwartz’s related Q&A with LaGarrett King, an associate professor of social studies at the University of Missouri’s College of Education.

8. Principals can’t build anti-racist schools alone.

BRIC ARCHIVE

It takes time. It’s uncomfortable. And there will be pushback. Principals need to root out policies and practices that disproportionately affect Black and brown students, but they will need support. Education Week’s Denisa R. Superville explores what that will take. Read more.

Illustrations by Jamiel Law
A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2020 edition of Education Week

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