The Urgent Need for Education Reform

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As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across the nation, it draws attention to the systemic racism that Black people uniquely face. Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across the nation, it draws attention to the systemic racism that Black people uniquely face. Unfortunately, this systemic oppression starts early, with the public education system. Inequity in the public education system is perpetuated by inadequate federal initiatives that blanket the nation with requirements that do not address local issues. While the goal of educational reformation movements like No Child Left Behind and the Common Core has been to close the achievement gap between white and marginalized children, they have actually increased it.  

No Child Left Behind expanded standardized testing to become a normalized method of measuring success in reading and math. The Common Core, introduced in 2010, was developed in reaction to standardized test scores from the No Child Left Behind-era that revealed the vast achievement gap between white and nonwhite children. The Common Core’s attempt to reform curricula on a national scale in order to close the achievement gap yielded poor results. Prior to New York’s implementation of the Common Core, the achievement gap between black and white students in the state was 12 points for ELA scores in third grade and 14 points for ELA scores in eighth grade. Only one year later, the gaps grew to 19 and 25 points, respectively. Researchers noticed similar trends with math scores. Standardized tests have been touted as racist because they set up many students of color for failure; the Common Core’s suppression of creativity and holistic development and dependence on standardized tests simply compounds the racist effects. Much of the criticism towards the Common Core has come from the concern that teachers will begin teaching with the intention of passing standardized tests rather than truly enriching students. Sadly, discussion about how the Common Core affects students of color is far too rare. 

Much of the criticism towards the Common Core has come from the concern that teachers will begin teaching with the intention of passing standardized tests rather than truly enriching students. Sadly, discussion about how the Common Core affects students of color is far too rare

But it gets worse. It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and worsened many of the examples of inequities in our society, and the education system has not been spared. The move to online education to protect children and faculty leaves those without computers or high-speed internet service in danger of falling incredibly far behind. The compiled effect of missed school on low-income students of color will not go unmissed; the resultant loss of learning and increased dropout rates will follow these individuals for the rest of their lives. These are not issues that can be resolved over the next one or two years. On a much larger scale, loss of learning leads not only to loss of income for students, but also the loss of opportunity for improved health, reduced crime and incarceration levels and increased political participation that have been correlated with greater educational attainment. 

It is up to all of us to ensure that these members of our community and the inequities they face are neither ignored nor forgotten.

Given these potentially tragic outcomes from the loss of learning caused by COVID-19(particularly for students who have already been marginalized by the educational system), there must be an attempt to address the education crisis at hand. The specific issues that worsen the loss of learning, such as lack of computers or access to high-speed internet, vary across the country. Despite the blatant failure of past federal initiatives in education suggesting that education reform should be left to state and local governments, the dialogue and momentum for this issue must happen on a national scale. One of the most basic, universal rights of children is access to adequate education, and for too long, Black children, Hispanic children and lower-class children in America have been denied that inalienable right. While the pandemic has the potential to drastically worsen their situation, it also has the potential to raise awareness and create necessary reform to help both present and future students. The devaluation of standardized tests like the SAT for college admissions is a good start. While this was done by colleges in response to many students’ inability to take the test, the same energy should be carried into guaranteeing an equal footing in college admission to students of color. Advocating on a local scale by ensuring your own public high schools are accommodating all students, and on a national scale by demanding funding for public schools in low-income areas are two examples of actions we can all take. It is up to all of us to ensure that these members of our community and the inequities they face are neither ignored nor forgotten. 

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