• Education Lab

To understand structural racism, look to our schools

Hannah Furfaro

Ku Akhri af Soomaali

It’s always time to talk about racial inequity in education. 

But the police killing of George Floyd, and coronavirus school closures that may deepen vast opportunity gaps between Black and white students, are driving new conversations about how schools should confront structural racism. 

Racial inequity is baked into the nation’s education system in ways big and small. Black children face the most extreme hurdles to academic success.

Within individual classrooms, teachers may mistake a Black preschooler’s chattiness for hyperactivity or bad behavior, instead of recognizing the child’s skillful storytelling abilities. Within public school districts, recruitment and hiring practices tend to leave out Black educators or pay them less than their peers. Higher education has a long history of excluding Black people entirely. Racism and hate crimes persist on many college campuses.

These inequities compound over the years when Black children and adults are in school. Some are insidious, such as false but pervasive cultural messaging that Black students are less capable learners than their peers. Others are overt: K-12 school policies allow students to be arrested on their campuses, and Black students face this fate far more often than others.

Education Lab, a project of The Seattle Times, was founded to examine how such problems are reinforced and to report evidence-based solutions that could help undo them. Here are some of the systemic ways public education creates barriers to learning for Black students.

The idea that success comes primarily from hard work minimizes systemic problems many Black children face.

Discrimination and racial bias against Black students begins as early as preschool . Several studies bear this out, including one from last year , in which researchers reported that teachers asked to rate students’ academic abilities scored Black children far below white peers with identical scores. Such implicit bias can have serious negative consequences: Teachers tasked with recommending students for gifted and talented programs , for example, might overlook Black students who would excel. In Seattle , the Black-white divide in such programs is among the nation’s largest. 

Black students tend to receive lower scores on standardized math and English tests than most other groups and are underrepresented in advanced courses.

How we got here:

  • Negative and racist societal messages about Black students’ academic abilities and strengths undercut their views of themselves and can hurt test performance
  • Educators may not recognize the strengths of Black children, such as strong oral storytelling skills, which standardized tests don’t measure
  • Gifted and talented programs disproportionately leave out Black students
  • Black students are more likely to attend schools with inexperienced or low-paid teachers

School climate is also important: Whether Black students feel safe and like they belong, or have adults they trust or who look like them at school, may affect how well they perform on assignments and standardized tests ; they are more likely to enroll in honors classes , for instance, if those courses are taught by Black teachers. Seattle Public Schools has created a department devoted to the achievement of Black boys and teenagers, a population officials deem “furthest from educational justice.”

Black and Latino students are also far more likely to attend schools in low-income neighborhoods, which is tied closely to academic achievement, in part because of a lack of resources.

Black students are far less likely to have a teacher, counselor or principal who looks like them during the course of their education compared to white students.

  • Cyclical problem: Black students don’t see themselves represented at school and avoid the teaching profession
  • The costs of college can be prohibitive for aspiring Black teachers, keeping enrollment in teacher programs low
  • Teacher preparation program tests are expensive and may carry cultural biases

Zero-tolerance discipline policies, like mandatory suspensions or expulsions for offenses that don’t include violence or drugs, fuel the school-to-prison pipeline . Such policies fall hardest on Black students: In the 2015-16 school year, for instance, Black students nationwide made up about 15 percent of public school students but 31 percent of those referred to police or arrested at school. In Seattle Public Schools last year, Black students made up half of police referrals, but only 14% of the district’s enrollment.

Black preschoolers are about 3.6 times more likely to receive at least one out-of-school suspension than white preschoolers.

  • Implicit bias among educators that assumes Black children are troublemakers
  • Adults view Black children as less innocent than white children
  • Zero-tolerance policies mandate punitive consequences for certain behavior, including minor infractions

Disproportionate rates and severity of discipline begin in preschool and extend over the years of Black children’s education. A few years ago, Education Lab took a close look at how such policies play out in schools across the Puget Sound region. The data was bleak . Discipline varies by district, but Black students were disciplined at disproportionately higher rates across the board.

Black students are about 5 times more likely than white students to be detained in juvenile justice facilities and are disproportionately sent from juvenile to adult court.

  • Schools disproportionately suspend and expel Black students
  • Schools disproportionately refer Black students to the police
  • Negative relationship cycle between teachers and Black students may escalate to punishment
  • Zero-tolerance policies push students out of schools for days or weeks each year

The series also examined fixes, such as using in-school suspensions instead of sending children home for long periods, or keeping truant children out of court . King County court officers began using restorative justice instead of traditional prosecution with young people who commit felonies. 

Higher Education

Black students face significant barriers that keep them from enrolling in college and ultimately earning a degree. It starts with their K-12 education: If schools fail to prepare them early on, they’re more likely to struggle to get in or possess study habits that allow them to persist and earn a degree. Students who go to school in low-income neighborhoods might not have the standardized test scores required for admission.

Black student enrollment in college is increasing in the U.S., but is still less common than among white students and many other racial and ethnic groups.

  • K-12 schools may not adequately prepare Black students for higher education
  • Policy making, such as banning affirmative action, hurts Black enrollment at four-year schools
  • Financial barriers, such as college application fees and testing fees, affect acceptance rates and ability to secure scholarships
  • Discriminatory laws and practices have excluded generations of Black students, making the “college tradition” less common among Black families

Black college students face hurdles once they enroll. Some highly selective schools use test scores for admission to certain majors, such as those in the STEM fields, which works to systemically keep out many Black students. Many predominantly white institutions also have a history and culture that makes Black students feel unwelcome . 

For Black students who are accepted to college, it’s still a big challenge to complete a college degree.

  • Black students are more likely to enroll in developmental, or remedial courses, putting them behind their peers, because the K-12 education system failed to prepare them for college
  • Some campuses have a history or culture that may cause Black students to feel unwelcome
  • High costs may create extra financial burdens on Black students, who are more likely than white students to leave because of student loan debt

Black students might be excluded from study groups, have a greater chance of experiencing racism on campus or have trouble forging strong connections with faculty members, though some colleges in Washington are striving to make changes by creating programs such as the University of Washington’s Brotherhood Initiative . 

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The U.S. student population is more diverse, but schools are still highly segregated

Headshot of Sequoia Carrillo

Sequoia Carrillo

Pooja Salhotra

Divisive school district borders.

The U.S. student body is more diverse than ever before. Nevertheless, public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

That's according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). More than a third of students (about 18.5 million of them) attended a predominantly same-race/ethnicity school during the 2020-21 school year, the report finds. And 14% of students attended schools where almost all of the student body was of a single race/ethnicity.

The report is a follow up to a 2016 GAO investigation on racial disparity in K-12 schools. That initial report painted a slightly worse picture, but findings from the new report are still concerning, says Jackie Nowicki, the director of K-12 education at the GAO and lead author of the report.

Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

"There is clearly still racial division in schools," says Nowicki. She adds that schools with large proportions of Hispanic, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students – minority groups with higher rates of poverty than white and Asian American students – are also increasing. "What that means is you have large portions of minority children not only attending essentially segregated schools, but schools that have less resources available to them."

"There are layers of factors here," she says. "They paint a rather dire picture of the state of schooling for a segment of the school-age population that federal laws were designed to protect."

School segregation happens across the country

Segregation has historically been associated with the Jim Crow laws of the South. But the report finds that, in the 2020-21 school year, the highest percentage of schools serving a predominantly single-race/ethnicity student population – whether mostly white, mostly Hispanic or mostly Black etc. – were in the Northeast and the Midwest.

School segregation has "always been a whole-country issue," says U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who heads the House education and labor committee. He commissioned both the 2016 and 2022 reports. "The details of the strategies may be different, but during the '60s and '70s, when the desegregation cases were at their height, cases were all over the country."

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices'

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices'

The GAO analysis also found school segregation across all school types, including traditional public schools, charter schools and magnet schools. Across all charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, more than a third were predominantly same-race/ethnicity, serving mostly Black and Hispanic students.

There's history behind the report's findings

Nowicki and her team at the GAO say they were not surprised by any of the report's findings. They point to historical practices, like redlining , that created racially segregated neighborhoods.

And because 70% of U.S. students attend their neighborhood public schools, Nowicki says, racially segregated neighborhoods have historically made for racially segregated schools.

The 50 Most Segregating School Borders In America

The 50 Most Segregating School Borders In America

"There are historical reasons why neighborhoods look the way they look," she explains. "And some portion of that is because of the way our country chose to encourage or limit where people could live."

Though the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlawed housing discrimination on the basis of race, the GAO says that in some states, current legislation reinforces racially isolated communities.

"Our analysis showed that predominantly same-race/ethnicity schools of different races/ethnicities exist in close proximity to one another within districts, but most commonly exist among neighboring districts," the report says.

School district secessions have made segregation worse

One cause for the lack of significant improvement, according to the GAO, is a practice known as district secession, where schools break away from an existing district – often citing a need for more local control – and form their own new district. The result, the report finds, is that segregation deepens.

"In the 10 years that we looked at district secessions, we found that, overwhelmingly, those new districts were generally whiter, wealthier than the remaining districts," Nowicki says.

Six of the 36 district secessions identified in the report happened in Memphis, Tenn., which experienced a historic district merger several years ago. Memphis City Schools, which served a majority non-white student body, dissolved in 2011 due to financial instability. It then merged with the neighboring district, Shelby County Schools, which served a wealthier, majority white population.

This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation

This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation

Joris Ray was a Memphis City Schools administrator at the time of the merger. He recalls that residents of Shelby County were not satisfied with the new consolidated district. They successfully splintered off into six separate districts.

As a result, the GAO report says, racial and socioeconomic segregation has grown in and around Memphis. All of the newly formed districts are whiter and wealthier than the one they left, which is now called Memphis-Shelby County Schools.

Why Busing Didn't End School Segregation

Why Busing Didn't End School Segregation

"This brings negative implications for our students overall," says Ray, who has led Memphis-Shelby County Schools since 2019. "Research has shown that students in more diverse schools have lower levels of prejudice and stereotypes and are more prepared for top employers to hire an increasingly diverse workforce."

The GAO report finds that this pattern – of municipalities removing themselves from a larger district to form their own, smaller school district – almost always creates more racial and socioeconomic segregation. Overall, new districts tend to have larger shares of white and Asian American students, and lower shares of Black and Hispanic students, the report finds. New districts also have significantly fewer students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty.

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As education in the United States has evolved over the years, one consistent – and significant – factor has been anti-Black racism.   Centuries of slavery and oppression led to a dual school system in which Black Americans were systematically denied access to quality education. The landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, famously declared that “separate is not equal,” but generations of Black Americans both before and after this decision were forced to defy laws and structural barriers to receive an education even close to equal.

African American school children playing outdoors circa 1932-33

  Between 1740 and 1867, anti-literacy laws in the United States prohibited enslaved, and sometimes free, Black Americans from learning to read or write. White elites viewed Black literacy as a threat to the institution of slavery – it facilitated escape, uprisings, and the sharing of information and ideas among enslaved people. Indeed, literacy undermined the false foundation slavery was built on: the intellectual inferiority and inhumanity of African-descended people.   The small percentage of enslaved people who became literate did so at great risk – those who were caught were often violently punished, sold, or even killed. Because of the danger, enslaved people had to be strategic and resourceful in learning to read and write. They attended secret informal schools taught by free Blacks at night, covertly learned from white enslavers’ children, or found opportunities when enslavers were away.   Northern states were little better. Black education was generally viewed with suspicion and suppressed through legislation and threat of violence. For instance, when white schoolteacher Prudence Crandall opened a boarding school for Black girls in 1832 Connecticut, the state promptly passed a law requiring written permission from town officials for anyone seeking to teach Black students from other states. This empowered anti-Black racism on a local level and, facing escalating harassment and vandalism, Crandall closed the school after only two years.   After the Civil War, emancipated Black Americans who’d been denied educational access for centuries made learning a priority. They established schools at their own expense and advocated for universal public education. The development of Southern public schools for students of all races is indebted to Black voters and legislators of the Reconstruction era. Education was embraced as a safeguard of Black liberation, self-determination, and rights as citizens.  

Unfortunately, strides made during this era were cut short by racism and white supremacy.

Southern schoolhouses and teachers, regardless of race, were targets of racist violence. Between 1864 and 1876, over 630 southern Black schools were significantly damaged or destroyed. Black Americans who moved to Northern urban centers, meanwhile, were segregated by anti-Black laws, policies, and cultural practices that denied them equitable access to schools.  

Group portrait of Black women graduates of Sedalia Public School, circa 1938-1939

  Across the country, state governments used their power to reinforce school segregation and to fund white schools at the expense of Black ones. Black students were left with dilapidated school buildings, fewer teachers and programs, and limited curriculum options. Facing these injustices, Black educators countered by receiving exceptional academic credentials to provide Black students with quality education.   Although Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in public schools, it did not end racial inequality in education. Freedom of Choice plans, private school vouchers, and white flight into suburbs perpetuated segregation and further concentrated wealth and school resources into predominantly white areas. In addition, many federal rulings after the Brown decision dismantled desegregation policies and strategies, and public schools today remain highly segregated by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.   Black students face an uphill battle against a system built on centuries of racism, divestment, and denied opportunities. Improved educational outcomes for Black students today can only be achieved by addressing these historic, race-based inequities.

Explore a curated sample of Harvard research and resources related to anti-Black racism in education below.

Fugitive pedagogy: carter g. woodson and the art of black teaching (harvard key only).

African Americans pursued education through clandestine means, often in defiance of law and custom, even under threat of violence in a tradition of “fugitive pedagogy.” This book examines this tradition through the efforts of educator, historian, and Black History Month founder Carter G. Woodson.

Teaching White supremacy: America's democratic ordeal and the forging of our national identity (Harvard Key Only)

This book explores white supremacy's deep-seated roots in the U.S. education system through an in-depth examination of American textbooks and the systematic ways in which white supremacist ideology has infiltrated American culture.

Teaching the Hard Histories of Racism

This article outlines five principles to guide educators in teaching difficult topics, such as racism and colonialism, to students of all ages.

Three Essays on Educational Policy and Equity

The systematic oppression of Black people throughout U.S. history has resulted in persistent unequal access to opportunity but decades of educational reform have not meaningfully reduced racial differences in standardized test performance, college going, or adult outcomes. This doctoral dissertation leverages rigorous quantitative research methods to contribute to and build on existing efforts to address racial inequalities through educational policy.

The Lingering Legacy of Redlining on School Funding, Diversity, and Performance

Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their lending risk from previously issued loans and visualized these grades on color-coded maps, which arguably influenced banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. This working paper leverages a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school and district funding, school racial diversity, and school performance.

The School to Prison Pipeline: Long-Run Impacts of School Suspensions on Adult Crime

Schools face important policy tradeoffs in monitoring and managing student behavior. Strict discipline policies may stigmatize suspended students and expose them to the criminal justice system at a young age. This working paper estimates the net impact of school discipline on student achievement, educational attainment and adult criminal activity and finds that the negative impacts of attending a high suspension school are largest for males and minorities.

United States District Court (Massachusetts) National Archives and Records Administration (U.S.) Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al. Case File. 1972-1995

In 1972 fifteen parents filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by a deliberate policy of racial segregation in Boston Public Schools. In 1974 Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. found the Boston School Committee had intentionally carried out a program of segregation in the Boston Public Schools.This digitized archival collection is a facsimile of the civil action case file for Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al. It contains documents related to the class action lawsuit, Garrity's decision, and implementation of court-ordered desegregation in Boston Public Schools.

Papers of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, 1900-1961

Educator Charlotte Eugenia Hawkins Brown was founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, and active in the National Council of Negro Women and the North Carolina Teachers Association. She was the first Black woman to serve on the national board of the YWCA. She lectured and wrote about Black women, education, and race relations. This archival collection provides information about Charlotte Hawkins Brown's life and activities, the Palmer Memorial Institute, and Brown's continuing struggle to enlarge the school, the financial problems she encountered, and her constant fundraising efforts.

Education Now: Navigating Tensions Over Teaching Race and Racism

How can schools, educators, and families navigate the continued politicization and tensions around teaching and talking about race, racism, diversity, and equity? In this webinar panelists discuss what educators and families can do to make sure students are supported, learning, and prepared with the knowledge they need to understand their own histories and the diverse and global society they’ll enter.

Donald Yacovone, 'Teaching White Supremacy'

In this seminar historian Donald Yacovone discusses his book "Teaching White Supremacy: America’s Democratic Ordeal and the Forging of Our National Identity" which explores white supremacy's deep-seated roots in the U.S. education system through an in-depth examination of American textbooks and the systematic ways in which white supremacist ideology has infiltrated American culture.

Harvard EdCast: The State of Critical Race Theory in Education

In this podcast educational researcher and pedagogical theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses how she adapted Critical Race Theory from law to explain inequities in education, the current politicization and tension around teaching about race in the classroom, and offers a path forward for educators eager to engage in work that deals with the truth about America’s history.

Harvard EdCast: Fugitive Pedagogy in Black Education

The history of Black education is complex and rich, but often remains untold. In this podcast interdisciplinary historian Jarvis Givens explains how Black educators worked together to push back against oppressive school structures in a tradition of “fugitive pedagogy” that was passed down from generation to generation of Black educators.

Harvard EdCast: Schooling for Critical Consciousness

What is the role of schools in teaching students, especially students of color, how to face oppression and develop political agency? In this podcast Daren Graves and Scott Seider, authors of "Schooling for Critical Consciousness" (2020), share the ways that educators and school leaders can help young people better understand and challenge racial injustices.

Citations for Section Overview

  • Anderson, James D. 2010. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. http://muse.jhu.edu/book/43951 .
  • Ansalone, George. 2009. “Tracking, Schooling and the Equality of Educational Opportunity.” Race, Gender & Class 16 (3/4): 174–84.
  • Caldera, Altheria. 2020. “Eradicating Anti-Black Racism in U.S. Schools: A Call-to-Action for School Leaders.” Diversity, Social Justice, and the Educational Leader 4 (1). https://scholarworks.uttyler.edu/dsjel/vol4/iss1/3 .
  • Dumas, Michael J. 2014. “Contesting White Accumulation in Seattle: Toward a Materialist Antiracist Analysis of School Desegregation.” In The Pursuit of Racial and Ethnic Equality in American Public Schools . Michigan State University Press. https://hollis.harvard.edu/permalink/f/1mdq5o5/TN_cdi_jstor_books_j_ctt13x0p5t_24 .
  • Dumas, Michael J. 2016. “Against the Dark: Antiblackness in Education Policy and Discourse.” Theory Into Practice 55 (1): 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2016.1116852 .
  • Erickson, Ansley T., and Ernest Morrell. 2019. Educating Harlem: A Century of Schooling and Resistance in a Black Community . New York: Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/eric18220 .
  • Feagin, Joe R, and Bernice McNair Barnett. 2004. “Success and Failure: How Systemic Racism Trumped the Brown V. Board of Education Decision.” UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW 2004 (5): 32.
  • Fenwick, Leslie T. 2022. Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: The Untold Story of Black Principal and Teacher Leadership . Race and Education Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Givens, Jarvis R. 2021. Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Perrillo, Jonna. 2012. Uncivil Rights: Teachers, Unions, and Race in the Battle for School Equity . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rasmussen, Birgit Brander. 2010. “‘Attended with Great Inconveniences’: Slave Literacy and the 1740 South Carolina Negro Act.” PMLA/Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 125 (1): 201–3. https://doi.org/10.1632/pmla.2010.125.1.201 .
  • Rose, Deondra. 2022. “Race, Post-Reconstruction Politics, and the Birth of Federal Support for Black Colleges.” Journal of Policy History 34 (1): 25–59. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0898030621000270 .
  • Scribner, Campbell F. 2020. “Surveying the Destruction of African American Schoolhouses in the South, 1864–1876.” Journal of the Civil War Era 10 (4): 469–94.
  • Span, Christopher M. 2015. “Post-Slavery? Post-Segregation? Post-Racial? A History of the Impact of Slavery, Segregation, and Racism on the Education of African Americans.” Teachers College Record 117 (14): 53–74. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146811511701404 .
  • Wasserman, Marni. 2014. Prudence Crandall’s Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown V. Board of Education . Driftless Connecticut Series Books. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Watkins, William H. 2001. The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954 . Teaching for Social Justice Series. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Williams, Heather Andrea. 2005. Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom . 1st ed. The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture Ser. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Citations for Images

  • Students and teachers in a Boston public school classroom, circa 1973 | Unidentified artist. Part of Ruth Batson Papers, 1919-2003. Folder: #2.10. Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute MC590-2.11-25. http://id.lib.harvard.edu/images/olvwork491021/catalog
  • African-American school children playing outdoors, 1932-1933 | Unidentified artist. Part of Ethel Sturges Dummer Papers. Folder: "Professional" papers of ESD by topic: Education: Chicago Schools: Joint Committee on Education - composed of representatives of number of Chicago women's clubs "formed to arouse an intelligent interest in our public schools": Chicago Woman's Club: Miscellaneous material relating to Chicago schools. Educational organizations and schools outside of Chicago. RLG collection level record MHVW85-A165. Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute MC590-2.11-25. http://id.lib.harvard.edu/via/olvgroup1004968/catalog
  • Group portrait of Sedalia Public School’s graduating class of 1938-1939, circa 1938-1939 | Unidentified artist. Group portrait, outside, of graduating class, Sedalia Public School. Part of Charlotte Hawkins Brown Papers. Folder: Photographs: Students, events, buildings, n.d. Sedalia Public School, 1938-39, n.d. HOLLIS collection level record 000605309 . RLG collection level record MHVW85-A64. Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute A146-69-9. http://id.lib.harvard.edu/via/olvwork20013567/catalog

A future we can all live with: How education can address and eradicate racism

A future we can all live with: How education can address and eradicate racism

by  Cecilia Barbieri & Martha K. Ferede

Today, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has exposed stark socio-economic inequalities and exacerbated hate speech, the world is also witnessing a global uprising against systemic, institutionalized and structural racism and discrimination.

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible

These words spoken by Maya Angelou more than 30 years ago echo the injustices of the past, add gravitas to our turbulent present and show clearly that prejudice runs counter to what is needed, at the core, for us to become global citizens who promote and develop just and peaceful futures.

Today, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has exposed stark socio-economic inequalities and exacerbated hate speech, the world is also witnessing a global uprising against systemic, institutionalized and structural racism and discrimination. Protests are unfolding in nearly every continent – from North and South America to Europe and Australia. This is not only about yet one more senseless killing of an unarmed African-American man. It is about the senseless killing of millions over many centuries, the unequal and unjust treatment, the different forms of violence, the economic and social inequality, the lack of opportunity, the racial profiling, the marginalization, the micro-agressions and the countless daily indignities. 

Systemic racism and discrimination are rooted in the structure of society itself, in governments, the workplace, courts, police and education institutions. Racism can be explicit but often exists in implicit, subtle and insidious forms that can be hard to pin down. 

Global data on education points to the malignancy of racism:  

School disciplinary policies disproportionately impact Black students . In some settings, starting as early as preschool, Black children are 3.6 times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than White children, increasing to 4 times as likely in grades K-12. Black students are also more than twice as likely to face school-related arrests and be referred to law enforcement ( US Department Office for Civil Rights, 2016 ;  Fabello et al., 2011 ). 

Teachers’ expectations differ by students’ race . Many studies have found a correlation between teachers’ expectations and students’ educational outcomes including academic achievement and completion of higher education ( Boser et al., 2014 ). However, teachers’ expectations differ by students’ race, economic status and national origin. For instance, Eastern European students have experienced various forms of racism and low expectations in the UK school system ( Tereschenko et al., 2018 ).

Students from ethnic and racial minority groups are more likely to be labelled ‘at risk’ . For example, in Quebec, Canada, students with Caribbean backgrounds are three times more likely to be identified as SHSMLD (students with handicaps, social maladjustments, or learning difficulties) and placed in separate classes for “at-risk” students ( Maynard, 2017 ).

Education attendance and attainment correlate with race . According to the  2020 Global Education Monitoring Report , although there have been advances towards increasing access in recent decades,  enduring racial inequality remains in educational attendance and attainment in Latin American countries. For example, compared to their non-Afrodescendant peers, attendance rates are lower for Afrodescendants aged 12-17 ( ECLAC, 2019 ). Based on World Bank data ( 2018 ), Afrodescendants in Uruguay and Peru are also reported as less likely to complete secondary school than non-Afrodescendants. 

Racial discrimination takes place among students . In Australia, a study of primary and secondary Anglo-Celtic/European, East or Southeast Asian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander and African students’ backgrounds, found that one in three reported being the victim of racial discrimination by their peers ( Priest et al., 2019 ).

The returns to education differ by race .  In post-Apartheid South Africa, although opportunities for education have improved, there has been a divergence in the valuation of that education. In 2004, differences in the returns to education accounted for about 40% of the White-African wage differential ( Keswell, 2010 ). By 2018, the average Black South African earned five times less than the average White South-African ( Syed & Ozbilgin, 2019 ).

Racism is a violation of the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (1948) and it goes against UNESCO’s  Convention Against Discrimination in Education  (1960), the  International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination  (1965), the  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  (1966) and the  Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989).

Systemic racism and discrimination are rooted in the structure of society itself, in governments, workplaces, courts, police and education institutions.

Education systems and educational institutions have an important role and responsibility in addressing and eliminating racism through: 

Supporting schools to implement education policies that support racially integrated schools . Such schools have been found to promote greater social cohesion and cross-race relationships ( Eaton & Chirichigno, 2011 ).  

Training and recruiting teachers that reflect the diversity of students . Studies show that when teachers reflect the student body, there are improved learning outcomes, higher expectations and fewer disciplinary actions ( Egamit et al. 2015 ). 

Examining the curriculum from multiple vantage points . First, schools should give history, social memory and human rights – as well as indigenous forms of knowledge – a place at the core of teaching.  This helps us to fully understand the past and its relation to the present and to break the perpetuation of stereotypes. Second, educators should reexamine and revise curriculum, and textbooks in particular, to eliminate racist depictions, misrepresentation, and historical exclusions. 

Addressing implicit bias .  All actors in education institutions from policy-makers, leaders, teachers, staff and students should receive training to become aware of their implicit bias – their unconscious bias and beliefs. Reflective teaching, fair discipline policies based on data and use of external feedback are some strategies schools can use to reduce implicit bias ( Staats, 2015 ). 

The injustice of systemic racism is a significant barrier to the type of education that is needed for preferred alternative futures for all - for a world where people are able to live together peacefully as global citizens in strong and just societies that value diversity. As educators, citizens and as a global community, we have much work to do to ensure that the solutions proposed to defeat systemic racism do not remain mired in the system that is being critiqued, so that the roots of oppression and inequality can be removed. 

And for that, a frank and bold approach is needed as affirmed in the recent message from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, “The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values. Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity and combat racism in all its manifestations.” 

It is time for essential conversations and inspired and informed action. 

Our future depends on it. 

The ideas expressed here are those of the authors; they are not necessarily the official position of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.

Cecilia Barbieri is the Chief of Section of Global Citizenship and Peace Education at UNESCO, coming from the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, where she was in charge of the Education 2030 Section. She has worked as an Education Specialist with UNESCO since 1999, mainly in Africa and Asia.

Martha K. Ferede is a Project Officer in the section of Global Citizenship and Peace Education at UNESCO. She is a former school teacher, researcher at Harvard University and lecturer at Sciences-po.

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Why Access to Education is Key to Systemic Equality

A professor holding a lecture to a group of students.

All students have a right to an equal education, but students of color — particularly Black and Brown students and students with disabilities, have historically been marginalized and criminalized by the public school system. The ACLU has been working to challenge unconstitutional disciplinary policies in schools, combat classroom censorship efforts that disproportionately impact marginalized students, and support race conscious admission policies to increase access to higher education.

Let’s break down why education equity is critical to the fight for systemic equality.

What does “education equity” mean, and why is it a civil rights issue?

Education equity means all students have equal access to a high quality education, safe learning environment, and a diverse student body that enriches the educational experiences of all students.

As the Supreme Court said in Brown v. Board of Education , education “is the very foundation of good citizenship.” Through education, young people learn important values about our culture and democratic society, and about their own values and relationships to others in this society. In addition to being an important foundation for kids’ and young adults’ future professional success, education allows individuals to be informed voters and participants in democratic processes, and public education is the first experience most people will have with the government.

For all of these reasons, equity in education is a critical foundation for a democratic society in which people of all backgrounds are equally included. Without equal opportunities to obtain an education, they will not be able to participate equally in jobs, in voting, and in other crucial areas of life. And when students are not able to learn together, this harms their ability to work together and live and engage with one another later in life.

What was the foundational Supreme Court case aimed at addressing discrimination in education nationwide?

Modern understandings of educational equity have their roots in Brown v. Board of Education , the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that ordered an end to school segregation and held racial segregation in education violates the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution. The ACLU played an important role in the Brown litigation, and has continued to fight for education equity on many fronts in the decades since.

What is the “school-to-prison pipeline”?

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to school discipline practices, such as suspensions and referrals to law enforcement, that funnel youth out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal legal systems.

This trend reflects our country’s prioritization of incarceration over education, and it’s made worse as resources for public schools are cut. From inadequate resources for counseling to an overreliance on school-based police officers to enforce harsh zero-tolerance policies, many students — overwhelmingly students of color and students with disabilities — are isolated, punished, and pushed out of our education system for typical childish behavior and behaviors associated with disabilities.

racism in education

Cops and No Counselors

How the lack of school mental health staff is harming students.

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

Even a single suspension or disciplinary infraction can have enormous consequences for a child’s education. As a student is pushed further down the school-to-prison pipeline, those consequences escalate quickly. In some jurisdictions, students who have been suspended or expelled have no right to an education at all. In others, they are sent to disciplinary alternative schools.Youth who become involved in the juvenile system are often denied procedural protections in the courts, and students pushed along the pipeline find themselves in juvenile detention facilities, many of which provide few, if any, educational services.

How are Black students, students of color, and students with disabilities disproportionately impacted by discrimination in education? What barriers to higher education exist for students of color?

Black and Brown students and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to discipline and referrals to law enforcement that remove them from the classroom and subject them to additional punitive consequences and even physical injury. For example, over the 2017-2018 school year, Black students accounted for 28.7 percent of all students referred to law enforcement and 31.6 percent of all students arrested at school or during a school-related activity — despite representing just 15.1 percent of the total enrolled student population.

Our country’s schools are increasingly diverse, but also increasingly segregated . Students of all races are harmed by the inability to learn with one another in diverse school settings. Black and Latine students are also more likely to attend schools that are intensely segregated both by race and by socioeconomic status. Students of color are also less likely to have access to advanced courses, and are frequently tracked away from college preparatory courses when they do exist.

racism in education

Moving Beyond the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Rulings

The work to ensure educational opportunities for people of color continues, despite the court’s decision.

Inequities in K-12 education can be replicated in college and university admissions criteria. As with elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities are required to ensure that educational opportunities are open to all students from the application stage and through student’s experiences during their college education. There are a wide range of things that colleges and universities can do to ensure that educational opportunities are open to people of all backgrounds.

What non-punitive responses should schools take when approaching school discipline issues? What non-punitive resources should schools invest in?

There are a range of evidence-based methods schools can use to respond to the behavioral needs of students. These range from strategies that teachers and schools can use to foster a positive learning culture and model, to interventions addressing particular disciplinary issues, such as conflict de-escalation or restorative justice, to using functional behavioral assessments and wraparound support for those students with higher levels of need.

Additionally, schools that employed more mental health providers saw improved student engagement and graduation rates . Schools that used other types of support, including restorative and trauma-informed practices, saw beneficial results, including reduced disciplinary incidents, suspensions, dropouts, and expulsions. Investing in mental health resources, support personnel, and interventions that promote positive student interactions can make schools safer and healthier learning environments, while also helping to combat the discriminatory school-to-prison pipeline that targets students of color and students with disabilities.

How do classroom censorship efforts (i.e. laws that block students and teachers from talking and learning about race and gender) lead to inequality in education?

Instruction about racism and sexism belongs in schools because it equips students to process the world around them and to live in a multicultural society.

Attacks on education have morphed from demands to exclude critical race theory from classrooms to ever-increasingly devious and dangerous demands to erase entire concepts from American history. Book bans, so-called transparency laws designed to intimidate educators into compliance, and attacks on individual expression have left our education system at the mercy of a hostile and discriminatory minority. Students can’t learn in that type of environment. Our future depends on educational institutions that value instruction about systemic racism and sexism. We need to expand culturally relevant instruction and increase funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools, not attack it for its role in uplifting the systematically oppressed.

What can colleges do to ensure they create opportunities for students of color in light of the recent Supreme Court decision effectively eliminating the use of affirmative action in college admissions?

Affirmative action in college admissions has been an important tool, but it is not the only avenue for ensuring that educational opportunities are open to all. In the absence of affirmative action, it is more important than ever that schools work to identify and remove inequitable barriers to higher education. At a minimum, schools must continue to comply with federal and state civil rights laws that require them to provide educational opportunities on an equal basis. They can achieve this by ensuring that policies and practices do not unnecessarily limit opportunities for people on the basis of race or ethnicity (or other protected characteristics, including disability, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity) and by ensuring that school climate enables all students to access and engage with educational opportunities .

What does the ACLU’s work in education equity look like today?

The ACLU and our affiliates around the country are challenging disciplinary policies that disparately target students of color and students with disabilities and infringe on their right to a safe learning environment. This includes litigation, such as our recent victory resulting in the end to charging students with “disorderly conduct” or “disturbing schools” in South Carolina schools, and advocacy, such as the ACLU of Idaho’s recent report Proud to be Brown and the related civil rights complaint. The report documents how school districts in Idaho are jeopardizing Latine students’ civil rights and liberties by enforcing “gang” dress codes that target mostly Latine students in a discriminatory way, and have negative consequences on their cultural identity, discipline, and education.

racism in education

CYAP v. Wilson

The ACLU Union filed a federal lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s “disturbing schools” law.

We are also fighting back against efforts to ban books and restrict what students can learn about race, gender, and sexual orientation. In Florida, for example, we’re challenging the state’s harmful Stop WOKE Act. We continue to press for equity in higher education following the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action, and defend against attacks on diversity in K-12 schools.

From K-12 to higher education, the ACLU is working to combat discrimination in education and ensure all people have equal access to safe, quality education.

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Understanding Our Commitment to Anti-Racism

  • Posted April 14, 2021
  • By News editor
  • Counseling and Mental Health
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Human Development
  • Moral, Civic, and Ethical Education

Amid pandemic losses and continuing shocks of racist violence, one legacy of this year’s trauma is a greater willingness on the part of many to take stock of their own role in perpetuating or responding to racism. Schools and communities have a key part to play in this necessary accounting, and for many educators and parents, the work is central and non-negotiable. Join us for a conversation in which we explore our commitment to anti-racism — and how the events of this past year have deepened our understanding of those commitments. We’ll share insight, inspiration, and actionable ideas for how schools, parents, and school leaders can work — from their individual roles, and collectively — to confront racism in our society and our schools. How can our own commitments help to empower communities — and the young people we are raising and educating?

Moderator: Tracie Jones, Director, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, HGSE

  • Malcolm Cawthorne, Teacher and civic leader, Brookline (MA) High School
  • Jennifer Perry Cheatham, Senior Lecturer on Education and Co-Chair of the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), HGSE
  • Heidi Shin, Journalist and a public radio and podcast producer
  • What Does Leading for Racial Justice Look Like? — a webinar from Education Week featuring Jennifer Cheatham
  • Talking to Children about Anti-Asian Bias — a reflection by Heidi Shin in the New York Times
  • The Exhaustion of Being a Black Teacher in a School When You’re One of Too Few Educators of Color — a Boston Globe Magazine piece featuring Malcolm Cawthorne

Classroom and family resources to teach about anti-racism:

  • Embracing Race : Resources for caring for and raising kids in the context of race
  • Immigrant History Initiatives : Classroom resources for teaching about immigrant history
  • Teaching for Change :  Culled list of children's books with diverse characters

Mental Health resources to support Asian American students:

  • MGH Cross-Cultural Student Awareness Center : Educator and parent resources to support Asian American students and educators' mental health in the face of anti-Asian racism 
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education's Let's Talk Conference

Resources to learn about the Asian American experience and history

  • Fiction and non-fiction writers, who have written about the Asian American experience in the United States
  • PBS documentary series about the Asian Americans experience

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Pandemic and Racial Injustice Cause Outsize Harm to Black Students, Study Finds

The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black people, coupled with racial trauma from last summer, will make it harder for Black students to return to classrooms, Teachers College research showed.

racism in education

By Isabella Grullón Paz

A new study of hundreds of Black educators, students and parents found that Black students will be returning to the classroom this fall with disproportionate amounts of trauma and heightened mistrust of education, resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and continued instances of racial injustice.

The study, released this month by the Black Education Research Collective at Teachers College, Columbia University, conducted online surveys and focus groups from January through May in six major U.S. cities to map the impact of the coronavirus on the education of Black youth. Participants included high school students, parents, teachers, educational administrators and community leaders who ranged in age from 14 to over 70 and all identified as Black.

According to the report, governmental and institutional responses to the coronavirus, police brutality, anti-Black violence and uprisings like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol have caused further “erosion of trust in schools and institutions” by Black Americans.

The response to the insurrection, which delayed the certification of the 2020 election results, caused almost 80 percent of respondents to trust institutions less, according to the study. The response to the pandemic eroded the trust of almost 70 percent of participants.

“For the Black experience in America, you know, for many people this is just more of the same,” said Sonya Douglass Horsford, an associate professor of education leadership at Columbia’s Teachers College and an author of the report.

Although systemic racism has been and will continue to be a problem, she said, the study provides an opportunity for people and institutions to change their response.

Ninety-one percent of respondents said they had been negatively affected by the increased visibility of white nationalism and police violence. Ninety-three percent reported that they were worried about the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol and the increased visibility of white supremacy. Nearly one-third indicated they were “extremely worried” about their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

The research also showed that Black Americans continue to worry about the pandemic and the country’s medical response to it.

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention , Black Americans are 2.8 times as likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 as white Americans are, and twice as likely to die from the disease. Black Americans also saw a steeper drop in life expectancy during the pandemic than white Americans did.

Sixty percent of respondents said they lived with an essential or frontline worker who performed a job in unsafe conditions. Nearly one-third of all survey respondents had lost a family member, a friend or a neighbor to Covid-19. About one-third of the survey participants faced job insecurity, and over 50 percent experienced employment status changes, according to the report. The level of loss, along with uncertain pandemic responses, negatively affected the mental health of about 86 percent of participants.

“The compounded effects have just really been a lot,” Dr. Horsford said.

For Anthony A. Jack, an assistant professor of education at Harvard University, the compounded effect goes beyond the events of the last 18 months: They are a direct result of longstanding racist policies such as redlining.

Professor Jack, who was not involved in the study, said the importance of the research lay in its potential to move the discussion of what racism looks like beyond the stagnant conversation about racial epithets.

“The lasting legacy of racism — you understand how it shapes your everyday interaction and shapes opportunities,” Professor Jack said. “It shapes your mental health.”

But “despite school districts preparing to open their physical school buildings safely in the fall,” the report said, “they remain unprepared to educate Black students effectively while ensuring their safety and well-being.”

“For years we’ve talked about reimagining education and reinventing education. And we actually have a window by which we can do that,” Dr. Horsford said.

The report notes that the “separate and unequal” design of schools keeps them “ill-equipped” to teach and take care of 7.7 million Black students at nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States.

In order to rebuild trust, the study’s authors wrote, leaders should begin to view students, parents and educators as “equal partners in education.” The report recommends using funds allocated to schools by the American Rescue Plan — nearly $122 billion — to respond to the academic and mental health needs of Black students.

Some of these solutions include simply investing in school infrastructure and hiring more Black teachers to update school curriculums to better understand Black history in the United States.

“I see the timing as really being great to pose a set of solutions and research-based recommendations that could help local communities — including students and parents and those who are reflected in the study — to put forth a set of recommendations for how those dollars should be spent,” Dr. Horsford said.

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A discussion about antiracism in higher education with Ibram X. Kendi (pictured), the award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller “How to Be an Antiracist.”

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Making higher education anti-racist

Colleen Walsh

Harvard Staff Writer

Radcliffe scholar details possible reforms in admissions, faculty representation

Ibram X. Kendi came of age in 1980s and ’90s America, when he said many considered Black youth “a menace,” “violent,” “dangerous,” and “super predators.” Around the year 2000, the celebrated antiracist scholar said he began to understand he harbored similar views.

“As a Black youngster, these ideas were directed toward me, and I didn’t realize fully how much I had come to even believe some of these ideas,” said Kendi , director of  Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and the 2020/2021 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the  Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study . It served as a powerful insight into how broadly and deeply such attitudes had permeated American society.

Kendi delivered his remarks as part of an online conversation about antiracism in higher education co-sponsored by Radcliffe and Harvard College Everywhere , a program that seeks to connect students with activities and resources during the pandemic. During the hourlong discussion, Kendi fielded questions from moderator Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, three College undergraduates, and some of the more that 2,000 viewers who tuned in.

In her introduction, Brown-Nagin said the events of the past year “have cast longstanding inequities and systemic racism into sharp relief.”

“These developments have prompted introspection in many quarters, and they’ve motivated powerful demands for change. The challenges we face can sometimes seem insurmountable, but we must remain engaged, and we can take heart that our program today is one of many discussions focused on combating racism and achieving equity that are taking place across the country.”

Kendi, whose books include “How to Be an Antiracist” and the National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” said his own story, and his career, has been focused on “trying to overcome this early conditioning that the problem is Black people and trying to unlearn those ideas that were showered onto me” and to help others do the same. With his comments, Kendi pushed for dismantling the racist policies and ideas that fuel systemic racism.

“There is no destination, it’s a journey of really consistently ensuring that we’re supporting antiracist policies and policy-makers and that we’re articulating antiracist ideas, and we’re constantly unlearning this conditioning.” Ibram X. Kendi

Brown-Nagin wondered how to apply Kendi’s antiracist framework to the work of creating diverse and inclusive college campuses. The author took aim at the college admissions process, noting that standardized tests advantage those who can afford expensive test prep courses. Black students also often can’t access advanced placement courses at their high schools, Kendi said, or are simply steered away from them by guidance counselors. “So how is that admissions factor race-neutral when Black students can’t even necessarily compete?”

One radical solution, Kendi said, would be to fundamentally rethink the concept of intelligence and academic potential so that applicants would be judged not by test scores but their desire to learn. “I would rather have in my class students who have a tremendous desire to know, rather than the kids who think they know it all,” said Kendi, adding that such a metric would cut across ethnicity, class, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Efforts to achieve faculty diversity, another important step toward fostering antiracism on college campuses, said Kendi, should go well beyond compiling demographic data on professors. Institutions of higher education should be keeping close track of who is applying for positions and then who is getting interviews, campus visits, job offers, promotions, and tenure. And who is not. “All of that data that allows the university to have a baseline and then start instituting policies and practices, particularly at the points where the disparities are the worst,” said Kendi. Such work, he added, is never-ending.

In response to a student question about reparations, Kendi said not only does the U.S. government need to examine its historic role and seek to repair and eliminate the racial wealth gap it helped perpetuate through its support of slavery, so too do institutions like Harvard. “Because either you’re going to assume that you possibly did contribute, and then you’re going to do a serious study, and then you’re going to repair, or you’re going to assume somehow that you’re not racist, you never contributed, which is no different than a president who is contributed to racism and then turns around and says he’s the least racist person in the room.”

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Turning from education to equality more broadly, Kendi said his work also examines the nature of human complexity and the idea that “people hold both racist and antiracist ideas and obviously support both racist and antiracist policies.” The key to remember, he said, is that “no one becomes an antiracist. It is only something we can strive to be … there is no destination, it’s a journey of really consistently ensuring that we’re supporting antiracist policies and policy-makers and that we’re articulating antiracist ideas, and we’re constantly unlearning this conditioning.”

Kendi held up the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of that ongoing work. As the number of African Americans being unjustly killed by police rose, some in the nation were “blaming those Black people for dying” while prosecutors were refusing to bring charges, said Kendi. In response the women who founded the movement embraced the antiracist value that black lives do matter. Those three words, he said, became “the defining three words of our time.”

Black Lives Matter “has been everything for me,” said Kendi. “I know it’s been everything for many people.”

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This is what the racial education gap in the US looks like right now

United States Education Equality Achievement Scores

Racial achievement gaps in the United States has been slow and unsteady. Image:  Unsplash/Santi Vedrí

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racism in education

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Stay up to date:, education, gender and work.

  • Racial achievement gaps in the United States are narrowing, a Stanford University data project shows.
  • But progress has been slow and unsteady – and gaps are still large across much of the country.
  • COVID-19 could widen existing inequalities in education.
  • The World Economic Forum will be exploring the issues around growing income inequality as part of The Jobs Reset Summit .

In the United States today, the average Black and Hispanic students are about three years ahead of where their parents were in maths skills.

They’re roughly two to three years ahead of them in reading, too.

And while white students’ test scores in these subjects have also improved, they’re not rising by as much. This means racial achievement gaps – a key way of monitoring whether all students have access to a good education – in the country are narrowing, research by Stanford University shows.

But while the trend suggests progress is being made in improving racial educational disparities, it doesn’t show the full picture. Progress, the university says, has been slow and uneven.

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Standardized tests

Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project uses average standardized test scores for nine-, 13- and 17-year-olds to measure these achievement gaps.

It’s able to do this because the same tests have been used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress to observe maths and reading skills since the 1970s.

Achievement Gap researchers educational equality United States

In the following decades, as the above chart shows, achievement gaps have significantly declined in all age groups and in both maths and reading. But it’s been something of a roller-coaster.

Substantial progress stalled at the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s and in some cases the gaps grew larger. Since then, they’ve been declining steadily and are now significantly smaller than they were in the 1970s.

But these gaps are still “very large”. In fact, the difference in standardized test scores between white and Black students currently amounts to roughly two years of education. And the gap between white and Hispanic students is almost as big.

Schools not to blame

This disparity exists across the US. Racial achievement gaps have narrowed in most states – although they’ve widened in a small number. In almost all of the country’s 100 largest school districts , though, there’s a big achievement gap between white and Black students.

White Black Student Achievement Scores Education Equality

So why is this? Stanford says its data doesn’t support the common argument that schools themselves are to blame for low average test scores, which is often made because white students tend to live in wealthier communities where schools are presumed to be better.

In fact, it says, the scores actually represent gaps in educational opportunity, which can be traced back to a child’s early experiences. These experiences are formed at home, in childcare and preschool, and in communities – and they provide opportunities to develop socioemotional and academic capacities.

Higher-income families are more likely to be able to provide these opportunities to their children, so a family’s socioeconomic resources are strongly related to educational outcomes , Stanford says. It notes that in the US, Black and Hispanic children’s parents typically have lower incomes and levels of educational attainment than those of white children.

Other factors, such as patterns of residential and school segregation and a state’s educational and social policies, could also have a role in the size of achievement gaps.

And discipline could play its part, too, according to another Stanford study. It linked the achievement gap between Black and white students to the fact that the former are punished more harshly for similar misbehaviour, for example being more likely to be suspended from school than the latter.

Long-term effects

Stanford says using data to map race and poverty could provide the insights needed to help improve educational opportunity for all children.

And this kind of insight is needed now more than ever. The school shutdowns forced by COVID-19 could have exacerbated existing achievement gaps , according to research from McKinsey. The consultancy says the resulting learning losses – predicted to be greater for low-income Black and Hispanic students – could have long-term effects on the economic well-being of the affected children.

Black and Hispanic families are less likely to have high-speed internet at home, making distance learning difficult. And students living in low-income neighbourhoods are less likely to have had decent home schooling, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Earlier in the pandemic, it said coronavirus would "explode" achievement gaps , suggesting it could expand them by the equivalent of another half a year of schooling.

The World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The two-day virtual event, being held on 1-2 June 2021, will address the most critical areas of debate, articulate pathways for action, and mobilize the most influential leaders and organizations to work together to accelerate progress.

The Summit will develop new frameworks, shape innovative solutions and accelerate action on four thematic pillars: Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation; Work, Wages and Job Creation; Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

The World Economic Forum will be exploring the issues around growing income inequality, and what to do about it, as part of The Jobs Reset Summit .

The summit will look at ways to shape more inclusive, fair and sustainable organizations, economies and societies as we emerge from the current crisis.

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Teaching about Racism Is Essential for Education

Lessons about racial injustice help students understand reality

By The Editors

The alphabet.

Elected officials who campaigned against critical race theory (CRT), the study of how social structures perpetuate racial inequality and injustice, are being sworn into office all over the U.S. These candidates captured voters’ attention by vilifying CRT, which has become a catch-all to describe any teaching about racial injustice. Lessons about the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, segregation and systemic racism would harm children, these candidates argued. Calling its inclusion divisive, some states have enacted legislation banning CRT from school curricula altogether.

This regressive agenda threatens children’s education by propagating a falsified view of reality in which American history and culture are outcomes of white virtue. It is part of a larger program of avoiding any truths that make some people uncomfortable, which sometimes allows in active disinformation, such as creationism. Children are especially susceptible to misinformation, as Melinda Wenner Moyer writes in “Schooled in Lies.”

It is crucial for young people to learn about equity and social justice so they can thrive in our increasingly global, multilingual and multicultural society. When students become aware of the structural origins of inequality, they better understand the foundations of American society. They are also better equipped to comprehend, interpret and integrate into their worldviews the science they learn in their classrooms and experience in their lives.

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Pondering racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities helps students understand, for example, why COVID death rates among Black, Latino and Native American people were much higher than those of white people as the pandemic began. They can better comprehend why people of color are far more likely to be subjected to the ravages of pollution and climate change or how a legacy of U.S. science that experimented on Black and Indigenous Americans may have led to distrust of doctors and health care.

Removing conversations around race and society removes truth and reality from education. This political interference is nothing new—political and cultural ideologues have fought for years to remove subjects such as evolution, Earth history and sex education from classrooms and textbooks, despite the evidence that sex ed helps to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, that evolution explains all life on Earth and that the world is older than a few thousand years.

Many of the school districts that brought in anti-CRT board members are the same ones that refuse to mandate masks, despite the evidence that masks can prevent the spread of COVID. These school officials also rail against vaccine mandates as a violation of personal choice. It is the same prioritization of individuals over community and a discomfort with hard truths that characterize the movement against the teaching of true history.

Fortunately, efforts to limit children’s education face stark opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union describes initiatives to quash discussions of racism in classrooms as “anathema to free speech.” And the U.S. Department of Education is debating a series of American History and Civics standards that include introducing “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning.” Caught in the middle are teachers who are trying to educate children during a pandemic.

While many parents of school-aged children supported anti-CRT campaigns, voters with no connection to the classroom helped significantly to tip these elections. Parents and educators must bring the conversation back to teaching children about reality. EdAllies, a Minnesota-based educational-support nonprofit, is encouraging teachers to reach out to parents and administrators to explain the necessity of antiracist content in their lessons, as a way to build community support.

All over the U.S., school board meetings are being taken over by fear of the inclusion bogeyman. And after our recent elections, more board members have the power to act against lessons they dislike. Today, tomorrow and for as long as these elected officials are in office, it is the children and the teachers who will pay the price for an incomplete education. We must work toward a school experience that includes narratives of discrimination, social justice and inequality as truths we can learn from so that history might not repeat itself.

The Origins of Racial Inequality in Education

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To understand and address educational inequality today, everyone involved in public schools must first be aware of how inequality has been embedded in the foundations of the country’s education system.

That’s the premise of one of five reports from Columbia University on the origins of racial inequality in the United States, published on March 20.

“ Uncovering Inequality ” is a research-based project spearheaded by Jelani Cobb, dean of Columbia Journalism School, and the university’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights. Conceived in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the project covers housing, criminal justice, health, economics, and education, highlighting how public policies have, by design, created and furthered racial inequality.

The main goal is to ensure that media conversations and coverage on these topics are rooted in historical context, with the hope that such information could move the needle toward addressing systemic inequality, whether through policy changes or more nuanced conversations, Cobb told Education Week.

But those working in K-12 education could also benefit from the education report in this project by seeing how topics intersect—such as the relationship between inequitable housing policies and educational inequity—and diving deeper into the origins of the work they do, said Juontel White, senior vice president of programs and advocacy with the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and co-author of the education report.

“I think having that historical grounding is helpful in the engagement with multiple stakeholders that educators face in their day to day work,” White told Education Week.

What the report offers

The education portion of the project covers a chronology of education policies following the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 and how their foundations and implementation created or contributed to racial inequalities. That education analysis includes an acknowledgment of how schooling during the pandemic shed light on this history.

“In more ways than one, the schooling experiences of students of color during the COVID-19 pandemic have illustrated that contemporary educational inequality is inextricably linked with the history of education, and other sectors such as public health and housing in the United States,” the report reads.

It covers the early days of schooling, roughly starting with the 1800s “common school” system of universal schooling funded by local taxes—and the disparate experiences among various racial/ethnic groups at the time when it came to education access and quality.

From there, the report explores the national patchwork of desegregation court orders following Brown ; the resegregation that emerged years later, and the topic of school choice in the 1990s; the relationship between school and neighborhood segregation; the role federal funding policies and high-stakes testing play in furthering racial inequities in education; and the question of inequalities in terms of school curriculum—namely whose history is taught in class, and whose is excluded or sidelined.

That last topic, curriculum, is particularly pertinent to educators facing legal restrictions in teaching about certain aspects of U.S. history. In at least 18 states , educators are banned in how they can discuss topics of race and racism.

This reality is not lost on the project writers.

“One of the highlights of the report is that the very content that is being politicized currently has never, in its totality, been a part of the fabric of public education curriculum,” White said.

It’s partly why researchers such as Eric Duncan, director for P-12 policy at The Education Trust, praise this report for offering teachers context they lack from their own experience as students.

“You can’t expect that our teaching population who have gone through schooling in America would understand this context, because it’s not taught in traditional settings,” Duncan said.

Why educators need to know education history

For years now, school districts, education researchers, and nonprofits have devoted time, money, and personnel to highlighting and attempting to dismantle inequalities in public education.

The historical context of how systems were created, for whom, and by whom, is key to this work, Duncan said.

For instance, debates around affirmative action in university enrollment need to factor in the issue of legacy admissions, in which the children of graduates are given preferential treatment. Because of past laws banning admission to Black students’ ancestors, these descendants are limited in their eligibility for legacy consideration, Duncan said.

And research has shown that “raising awareness of systemic inequities and their effects can foster empathy and lower explicit and implicit biases toward marginalized groups, whether among school administrators, teachers, or others,” said Felice J. Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association, or AERA.

“Every individual involved in public education—as a teacher, administrator, parent, or taxpayer—should be fully aware of the history and persistent ramifications of the racial inequity ingrained in our system,” Levine said.

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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. On Monday, March 25, 2024, a high school teacher and two students sued Arkansas over the state's ban on critical race theory and “indoctrination” in public schools, asking a federal judge to strike down the restrictions as unconstitutional.

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Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education

Subscribe to governance weekly, linda darling-hammond ld linda darling-hammond.

March 1, 1998

  • 13 min read

W.E.B. DuBois was right about the problem of the 21st century. The color line divides us still. In recent years, the most visible evidence of this in the public policy arena has been the persistent attack on affirmative action in higher education and employment. From the perspective of many Americans who believe that the vestiges of discrimination have disappeared, affirmative action now provides an unfair advantage to minorities. From the perspective of others who daily experience the consequences of ongoing discrimination, affirmative action is needed to protect opportunities likely to evaporate if an affirmative obligation to act fairly does not exist. And for Americans of all backgrounds, the allocation of opportunity in a society that is becoming ever more dependent on knowledge and education is a source of great anxiety and concern.

At the center of these debates are interpretations of the gaps in educational achievement between white and non-Asian minority students as measured by standardized test scores. The presumption that guides much of the conversation is that equal opportunity now exists; therefore, continued low levels of achievement on the part of minority students must be a function of genes, culture, or a lack of effort and will (see, for example, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White).

The assumptions that undergird this debate miss an important reality: educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race. In fact, the U.S. educational system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states. Despite stark differences in funding, teacher quality, curriculum, and class sizes, the prevailing view is that if students do not achieve, it is their own fault. If we are ever to get beyond the problem of the color line, we must confront and address these inequalities.

The Nature of Educational Inequality

Americans often forget that as late as the 1960s most African-American, Latino, and Native American students were educated in wholly segregated schools funded at rates many times lower than those serving whites and were excluded from many higher education institutions entirely. The end of legal segregation followed by efforts to equalize spending since 1970 has made a substantial difference for student achievement. On every major national test, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gap in minority and white students’ test scores narrowed substantially between 1970 and 1990, especially for elementary school students. On the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the scores of African-American students climbed 54 points between 1976 and 1994, while those of white students remained stable.

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Even so, educational experiences for minority students have continued to be substantially separate and unequal. Two-thirds of minority students still attend schools that are predominantly minority, most of them located in central cities and funded well below those in neighboring suburban districts. Recent analyses of data prepared for school finance cases in Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, and Texas have found that on every tangible measure—from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings—schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students. As William L. Taylor and Dianne Piche noted in a 1991 report to Congress: Inequitable systems of school finance inflict disproportionate harm on minority and economically disadvantaged students. On an inter-state basis, such students are concentrated in states, primarily in the South, that have the lowest capacities to finance public education. On an intra-state basis, many of the states with the widest disparities in educational expenditures are large industrial states. In these states, many minorities and economically disadvantaged students are located in property-poor urban districts which fare the worst in educational expenditures (or) in rural districts which suffer from fiscal inequity.

Jonathan Kozol s 1991 Savage Inequalities described the striking differences between public schools serving students of color in urban settings and their suburban counterparts, which typically spend twice as much per student for populations with many fewer special needs. Contrast MacKenzie High School in Detroit, where word processing courses are taught without word processors because the school cannot afford them, or East St. Louis Senior High School, whose biology lab has no laboratory tables or usable dissecting kits, with nearby suburban schools where children enjoy a computer hookup to Dow Jones to study stock transactions and science laboratories that rival those in some industries. Or contrast Paterson, New Jersey, which could not afford the qualified teachers needed to offer foreign language courses to most high school students, with Princeton, where foreign languages begin in elementary school.

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. It all adds up.

What Difference Does it Make?

Since the 1966 Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, another debate has waged as to whether money makes a difference to educational outcomes. It is certainly possible to spend money ineffectively; however, studies that have developed more sophisticated measures of schooling show how money, properly spent, makes a difference. Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known (300 to 500 students is optimal), have smaller class sizes (especially at the elementary level), receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers.

Minority students are much less likely than white children to have any of these resources. In predominantly minority schools, which most students of color attend, schools are large (on average, more than twice as large as predominantly white schools and reaching 3,000 students or more in most cities); on average, class sizes are 15 percent larger overall (80 percent larger for non-special education classes); curriculum offerings and materials are lower in quality; and teachers are much less qualified in terms of levels of education, certification, and training in the fields they teach. And in integrated schools, as UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes described in the 1980s and Harvard professor Gary Orfield’s research has recently confirmed, most minority students are segregated in lower-track classes with larger class sizes, less qualified teachers, and lower-quality curriculum.

Research shows that teachers’ preparation makes a tremendous difference to children’s learning. In an analysis of 900 Texas school districts, Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson found that teachers’ expertise—as measured by scores on a licensing examination, master’s degrees, and experienc—was the single most important determinant of student achievement, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the measured variance in students’ reading and math achievement gains in grades 1-12. After controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in achievement between black and white students were almost entirely due to differences in the qualifications of their teachers. In combination, differences in teacher expertise and class sizes accounted for as much of the measured variance in achievement as did student and family background (figure 1).

Ferguson and Duke economist Helen Ladd repeated this analysis in Alabama and again found sizable influences of teacher qualifications and smaller class sizes on achievement gains in math and reading. They found that more of the difference between the high- and low-scoring districts was explained by teacher qualifications and class sizes than by poverty, race, and parent education.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee study found that elementary school students who are assigned to ineffective teachers for three years in a row score nearly 50 percentile points lower on achievement tests than those assigned to highly effective teachers over the same period. Strikingly, minority students are about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers and twice as likely to be assigned to the least effective.

Minority students are put at greatest risk by the American tradition of allowing enormous variation in the qualifications of teachers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found that new teachers hired without meeting certification standards (25 percent of all new teachers) are usually assigned to teach the most disadvantaged students in low-income and high-minority schools, while the most highly educated new teachers are hired largely by wealthier schools (figure 2). Students in poor or predominantly minority schools are much less likely to have teachers who are fully qualified or hold higher-level degrees. In schools with the highest minority enrollments, for example, students have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a math or science teacher with a license and a degree in the field. In 1994, fully one-third of teachers in high-poverty schools taught without a minor in their main field and nearly 70 percent taught without a minor in their secondary teaching field.

Studies of underprepared teachers consistently find that they are less effective with students and that they have difficulty with curriculum development, classroom management, student motivation, and teaching strategies. With little knowledge about how children grow, learn, and develop, or about what to do to support their learning, these teachers are less likely to understand students’ learning styles and differences, to anticipate students’ knowledge and potential difficulties, or to plan and redirect instruction to meet students’ needs. Nor are they likely to see it as their job to do so, often blaming the students if their teaching is not successful.

Teacher expertise and curriculum quality are interrelated, because a challenging curriculum requires an expert teacher. Research has found that both students and teachers are tracked: that is, the most expert teachers teach the most demanding courses to the most advantaged students, while lower-track students assigned to less able teachers receive lower-quality teaching and less demanding material. Assignment to tracks is also related to race: even when grades and test scores are comparable, black students are more likely to be assigned to lower-track, nonacademic classes.

When Opportunity Is More Equal

What happens when students of color do get access to more equal opportunities’ Studies find that curriculum quality and teacher skill make more difference to educational outcomes than the initial test scores or racial backgrounds of students. Analyses of national data from both the High School and Beyond Surveys and the National Educational Longitudinal Surveys have demonstrated that, while there are dramatic differences among students of various racial and ethnic groups in course-taking in such areas as math, science, and foreign language, for students with similar course-taking records, achievement test score differences by race or ethnicity narrow substantially.

Robert Dreeben and colleagues at the University of Chicago conducted a long line of studies documenting both the relationship between educational opportunities and student performance and minority students’ access to those opportunities. In a comparative study of 300 Chicago first graders, for example, Dreeben found that African-American and white students who had comparable instruction achieved comparable levels of reading skill. But he also found that the quality of instruction given African-American students was, on average, much lower than that given white students, thus creating a racial gap in aggregate achievement at the end of first grade. In fact, the highest-ability group in Dreeben’s sample was in a school in a low-income African-American neighborhood. These children, though, learned less during first grade than their white counterparts because their teacher was unable to provide the challenging instruction they deserved.

When schools have radically different teaching forces, the effects can be profound. For example, when Eleanor Armour-Thomas and colleagues compared a group of exceptionally effective elementary schools with a group of low-achieving schools with similar demographic characteristics in New York City, roughly 90 percent of the variance in student reading and mathematics scores at grades 3, 6, and 8 was a function of differences in teacher qualifications. The schools with highly qualified teachers serving large numbers of minority and low-income students performed as well as much more advantaged schools.

Most studies have estimated effects statistically. However, an experiment that randomly assigned seventh grade “at-risk”students to remedial, average, and honors mathematics classes found that the at-risk students who took the honors class offering a pre-algebra curriculum ultimately outperformed all other students of similar backgrounds. Another study compared African-American high school youth randomly placed in public housing in the Chicago suburbs with city-placed peers of equivalent income and initial academic attainment and found that the suburban students, who attended largely white and better-funded schools, were substantially more likely to take challenging courses, perform well academically, graduate on time, attend college, and find good jobs.

What Can Be Done?

This state of affairs is not inevitable. Last year the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future issued a blueprint for a comprehensive set of policies to ensure a “caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child,” as well as schools organized to support student success. Twelve states are now working directly with the commission on this agenda, and others are set to join this year. Several pending bills to overhaul the federal Higher Education Act would ensure that highly qualified teachers are recruited and prepared for students in all schools. Federal policymakers can develop incentives, as they have in medicine, to guarantee well-prepared teachers in shortage fields and high-need locations. States can equalize education spending, enforce higher teaching standards, and reduce teacher shortages, as Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, and North Carolina have already done. School districts can reallocate resources from administrative superstructures and special add-on programs to support better-educated teachers who offer a challenging curriculum in smaller schools and classes, as restructured schools as far apart as New York and San Diego have done. These schools, in communities where children are normally written off to lives of poverty, welfare dependency, or incarceration, already produce much higher levels of achievement for students of color, sending more than 90 percent of their students to college. Focusing on what matters most can make a real difference in what children have the opportunity to learn. This, in turn, makes a difference in what communities can accomplish.

An Entitlement to Good Teaching

The common presumption about educational inequality—that it resides primarily in those students who come to school with inadequate capacities to benefit from what the school has to offer—continues to hold wide currency because the extent of inequality in opportunities to learn is largely unknown. We do not currently operate schools on the presumption that students might be entitled to decent teaching and schooling as a matter of course. In fact, some state and local defendants have countered school finance and desegregation cases with assertions that such remedies are not required unless it can be proven that they will produce equal outcomes. Such arguments against equalizing opportunities to learn have made good on DuBois’s prediction that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line.

But education resources do make a difference, particularly when funds are used to purchase well-qualified teachers and high-quality curriculum and to create personalized learning communities in which children are well known. In all of the current sturm und drang about affirmative action, “special treatment,” and the other high-volatility buzzwords for race and class politics in this nation, I would offer a simple starting point for the next century s efforts: no special programs, just equal educational opportunity.

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The Impact of Racism on Education and the Educational Experiences of Students of Color

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The Cost of Racism for People of Color: Contextualizing Experiences of Discrimination

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T1 - The Impact of Racism on Education and the Educational Experiences of Students of Color

AU - Dixson, Adrienne D.

AU - Clayton, Dominique M.

AU - Peoples, Leah Q.

AU - Reynolds, Rema

N2 - Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) decision, scholars are finding that public schools have essentially re-segregated at rates that parallel, and in some cases, exceed pre-Brown segregation (Orfield, Frankenberg, Ee, & Kucsera, 2014). In attempting to redress the racialized educational inequality, school districts and state and federal lawmakers have attempted to craft policies aligned with these goals. Some scholars have found that certain policy interventions have in many ways contributed to the increasing racial segregation in public schools and funding disparities that have only contributed to disparities in access and opportunity (Dixson, 2011; Dixson, Royal, & Henry, 2013). In this chapter, we examine the educational impact of segregation as an educational policy. We believe current racial disparities in education are in large part related to the legacy of structural racism rather than the unintended consequence of race-neutral policies or individual decisions. We take a broad look at how both de jure and de facto segregation has had an impact on and shaped the educational experiences of African Americans and other students of color and the ways in which this educational policy has contributed to institutionalized disparities.

AB - Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) decision, scholars are finding that public schools have essentially re-segregated at rates that parallel, and in some cases, exceed pre-Brown segregation (Orfield, Frankenberg, Ee, & Kucsera, 2014). In attempting to redress the racialized educational inequality, school districts and state and federal lawmakers have attempted to craft policies aligned with these goals. Some scholars have found that certain policy interventions have in many ways contributed to the increasing racial segregation in public schools and funding disparities that have only contributed to disparities in access and opportunity (Dixson, 2011; Dixson, Royal, & Henry, 2013). In this chapter, we examine the educational impact of segregation as an educational policy. We believe current racial disparities in education are in large part related to the legacy of structural racism rather than the unintended consequence of race-neutral policies or individual decisions. We take a broad look at how both de jure and de facto segregation has had an impact on and shaped the educational experiences of African Americans and other students of color and the ways in which this educational policy has contributed to institutionalized disparities.

U2 - 10.1037/14852-009

DO - 10.1037/14852-009

M3 - Chapter

SN - 978-1-4338-2095-3

SN - 978-1-4338-2096-0

BT - The Cost of Racism for People of Color

A2 - Alvarez, Alvin N.

A2 - Liang, Christopher T. H.

A2 - Neville, Helen A.

PB - American Psychological Association


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  13. The banality of racism in education

    When we do, like the Parkland shooting, it seldom points directly at issues of race and inequality. Rather, moments of educational inequity happen quietly, day after day, in places like classrooms ...

  14. Inequality at school

    For decades, black students in the United States have lagged behind their white peers in academic achievement. In 2014, the high school graduation rate for white ­students was 87 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For black students, the rate was 73 ­percent. Test scores show a similar racial gap.

  15. Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Education

    Executive Summary. Pervasive ethnic and racial disparities in education follow a pattern in which African-American, American Indian, Latino and Southeast Asian groups underperform academically, relative to Caucasians and other Asian-Americans. These educational disparities.

  16. This data shows the racial gap in access to education in the US

    Racial achievement gaps in the United States are narrowing, a Stanford University data project shows. But progress has been slow and unsteady - and gaps are still large across much of the country. COVID-19 could widen existing inequalities in education. The World Economic Forum will be exploring the issues around growing income inequality as ...

  17. Teaching about Racism Is Essential for Education

    The American Civil Liberties Union describes initiatives to quash discussions of racism in classrooms as "anathema to free speech." And the U.S. Department of Education is debating a series of ...

  18. The Origins of Racial Inequality in Education

    Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 and how their foundations and implementation created or contributed to racial inequalities. That education analysis includes an acknowledgment of how schooling ...

  19. Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education

    Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education. W.E.B. DuBois was right about the problem of the 21st century. The color line divides us still. In recent years, the most visible evidence of this in the ...

  20. The Impact of Racism on Education and the Educational Experiences of

    Dixson, AD, Clayton, DM, Peoples, LQ & Reynolds, R 2016, The Impact of Racism on Education and the Educational Experiences of Students of Color. in AN Alvarez, CTH Liang & HA Neville (eds), The Cost of Racism for People of Color: Contextualizing Experiences of Discrimination. American Psychological Association, pp. 189-201.

  21. PDF A critical look at systemic racism in education: The need for a racial

    August 24, 2020. Anti-Racism Teach-Ins August-Labor Day, 2020. On Zoom in Toledo, Ohio. "It is hard for me to believe I finished high school in the year 2000 touting so many racist ideas. A racist culture had handed me the ammunition to shoot Black people, to shoot myself, and I took and used it. Internalized racism is the real Black on Black ...

  22. Systemic racism has led to education disparities

    Systemic racism has led to education disparities. College of Education dean discusses how racial discrimination results in unequal educational opportunities. Photography By: Joseph V. Labolito. According to College of Education Dean Gregory Anderson, there are some straightforward ways to address education disparities, but they are a difficult ...

  23. Fighting Systemic Racism in K-12 Education: Helping Allies Move From

    Because systemic racism in education is a root cause of so many other inequities that BIPOC face, it is critical that allies stand shoulder to shoulder with these communities in calling for large ...