Racism in School Districts Perpetuates Unequal Opportunity
October 1, 2021
Author: Brittany Roa (BRiYA)
“The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity…This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity.” -edbuild.org
Racism is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. We’re finally beginning to uncover and understand the many intricacies involved in systemic racism. One of the most damaging, being racism in schools.
This is seen through unequal funding, differing qualities of education, and segregation. The racial divide has been a point of contention for a long time and needs to become something of the past.
Discrimination in schools, such as African Americans and other students of color not receiving the same level of education as white students, creates negative consequences that stretch far past the educational system. It affects BIPOC’s ability to get access to good jobs and the ability to create a life that will help them rise above poverty and oppression.
As educators, it is imperative that racial discrimination doesn’t continue to go unnoticed in the educational system, hurting and further oppressing groups of people. Through education and awareness, you can help put a stop to racism in schools and classrooms.
By becoming aware of the inequalities of the education system, such as school district racial segregation, you can make a decision to help out at schools with the most need. Your decision can help eliminate institutionalized racism and empower future generations.
Discrimination in schools perpetuates racial inequality
First we must all be clear that racism in schools exists.
I’m not talking about blatant acts. For the purpose of this article, I’m referring to racism manifested as students of color not receiving access to proper education and resources in the United States.
We can look through the history books and see that there have been moves towards integration, however, it seems that the pages just get stickier. Racism has not gone away just because schools are not legally segregated. Segregation still exists, but in more subtle ways, such as district lines. Edbuild.org produced a report that explains clearly the dangers of segregation:
“School districts determine the extent to which we can integrate children in a classroom. Their borders can be used to either help remedy or further entrench a deep history of housing segregation. We can draw lines that equalize inherent disparities, or we can allow communities to isolate themselves behind unseen walls of wealth and prosperity—ensuring privilege remains solely within the grasp of the lucky few. Far too often, we choose the latter path.”
Due to the boundaries of school districts, BIPOC communities generally stay segregated within the same area, which are usually low-income. They often don’t receive the necessary equipment and textbooks. Inadequate resources makes it more difficult, almost impossible, to properly learn a subject.
Linda Darling-Hammond discusses in her article, “Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education,” the racial and economic imbalances in education:
“Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer.”
Racial division in neighborhoods translates to school districts being segregated and generally given less money to invest in textbooks and technology. This hurts students of color’s opportunities to rise above their disadvantages due to income— which has been solidified over time through systemic racism.
Unequal distribution of resources creates a problem for students. Without proper education, how can a child perform well enough on tests to ensure a good future?
In this ever-growing technological world, there is high demand for people who are highly skilled with computers. If a low-income family can’t afford a home computer and the child’s school doesn’t provide one to work with, then the child is at a great disadvantage when they finally reach the job market.
Without proper skills and education, the student will be forced to take a low-paying job, live in a low-income neighborhood, and end up in a poor school district. The cycle perpetuates itself.
Racism in schools hurts BIPOC futures
One way to ensure a better future is to ensure a good education. And the same goes for the opposite. Poor education damages opportunities, meaning more BIPOC are at risk than white students, due to racism in education systems.
Clare Lombardo in npr.org explains the funding inequality, “high-poverty districts made up of mostly students of color — about a third of the school districts in the state [of Arizona]— receive almost $11,000 less per student than the state’s high-poverty, predominantly white districts.”
Having grown up in Arizona and gone to school there, I felt this discrepancy. My high school was known to be a poorer school with higher rates of students of color, mostly hispanic. The impact of this wasn’t just in lacking the same resources in the classroom to the newer and richer schools, but the psychological effect of hearing that your school was “ghetto” also played a role in feeling less than.
With a number like $11,000 less per student of color in Arizona, there is no doubt that students are still not receiving the same quality of education as their white counterparts. This systemic racism hurts their opportunity for creating better lives for themselves. And this is not just happening in Arizona, but states and schools all over the United States.
It’s one thing to know that racism in schools exists through racial segregation, but to actually become aware of the long-term effects of lack of education is another thing. One would hope that this knowledge would encourage everyone to take education more seriously and advocate for those who aren’t receiving equal opportunities.
Chris Drew, PhD, in his article, Lack of Education: 11 Lifelong Effects (2020), writes:
“Lack of education has serious effects on everyone, not only people who are under-educated. People who lack education have trouble getting ahead in life, have worse health and are poorer than the well-educated. Major effects of lack of education include: poor health, lack of a voice, shorter lifespan, unemployment, exploitation and gender inequality.”
The importance of education is often heard, but what’s more crucial is stressing the importance of good education. A student of color may attend school everyday but not receive adequate schooling, proving that quality is indeed better than quantity. It is not fair that students are being treated differently just because of their skin color.
Ultimately, the question is: What can be done to change this? While there are many different avenues to take to incite change, there is something you can do on a personal level.
An educator’s responsibility and gift
As an educator, or someone involved in the educational system, you have a lot of power. You can make the changes in your schools and classrooms that will have outward rippling effects.
If you have a higher education degree, consider finding a job at a lower income public school. Your expertise and knowledge will be passed along to students of color who, due to systemic racism, don’t have the same exposure to that quality of education. You can use your experience to create a bright future for at-risk students.
According to Darling-Hammond, “Studies find that curriculum quality and teacher skill make more difference to educational outcomes than the initial test scores or racial backgrounds of students.” This means that you can help shift a child’s life and future who would otherwise remain oppressed due to circumstances. Your curriculum preparedness as well as your knowledge and skill can give a student of color (and all students) more opportunities.
It is powerful to understand the responsibility that comes with education. You can literally change a life and break the cycle of systemic racism within one child’s world.
With knowledge and a good heart, you can slowly watch as you create the world you want to live in. One that is equal for all.
I highly suggest this article for further reading: Nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts despite serving the same number of students
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