Let the Conversations About Color in Education Begin

By Frances Thompson
Frances Thompson is a retired educator and school counselor with a passion for equity in education and excellence for all students

students of colorThe disparity of the academic achievement of students of color is an issue of great concern for educators all over the United States. Students of color are scoring lower than their counterparts on standardized reading and math tests, graduating from high school and college at lower rates, and are too often found with extensive discipline records rather than enrolled in gifted education or in advanced classes.

Specifically, there is a significant disparity between the academic achievement of African American male students and their counterparts at every socioeconomic level. (NCES, 2009) African-American students are 3.5 times more likely than their counterparts to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

While there is a significant population of students of color who are achieving, graduating from high school, attending college and going into professional lines of work, we must keep our focus on those students that we are consistently failing to reach in our classrooms. Without a quality education, these students have little or no chance of becoming productive citizens in American society.

Imperative Improvement

The improvement of educational services to all students in our country is a moral imperative. We can no longer continue teaching practices that ignore the academic, social and emotional needs of students of diverse cultures in the name of “color-blindness”.

As educators, we are challenged daily to respond to the needs students who seem to be fighting against their success rather than cooperating with the educators who are dedicated to helping them. Admittedly, general apathy, disinterest, and poor conduct are roadblocks to academic success.

However, could it be that the dedicated teachers who face these students daily fail to see students of color through the lens of acceptance? Could teachers’ low expectations and fears contribute to an inability to relate to them?

These reflective questions can begin the kinds of conversations that can help us tackle this pervasive issue in education. Courageous and candid conversations about race can reveal the impact that educators’ attitudes about race can have on academic achievement. (Singleton, 2006)

No More Apathy

Students who cannot read, who consistently struggle academically in our classrooms, who feel excluded from the educational process such that they are dropping out of school at alarming rates, may at some point become so disenfranchised that we will see an even greater lack of cooperation, total disinterest, and a sense of hopelessness, similarly born out of frustration and anger.

So, let the conversations begin. We have much to talk about. Let’s courageously bring conversations about race to the forefront of the work of bringing equity into our classrooms and eliminating achievement disparities. Conversations about race — while uncomfortable and challenging — can help teachers examine their personal interactions and professional practices, and discover how attitudes and beliefs about race impact teaching and learning.

Questions to Consider

Personal attitudes and beliefs about race have a direct impact on students’ academic achievement (Singleton, 2006). A handful of reflective questions for every educator to consider:

  • What kinds of messages are we sending to students daily?
  • Are educators making every effort to bring cultural relevance into our classrooms?
  • Are we building relationships with students of diverse cultures to the extent that they become willing to entrust us with their abilities?
  • Are we designing rigorous and culturally relevant curriculum for all to demonstrate high expectations for the performance of all students?
  • Do we build scaffolds for students or do we take the “watch and wait” approach?

Sources Referenced:

  • Planty, M., Hussar, W., Snyder, T., Kena, G., KewalRamani, A., Kemp, J., Bianco, K., Dinkes, R. (2009). The Condition of Education 2009 (NCES 2009-081). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S.Department of Education. Washington, DC.
  • Singleton, G. & Linton, C. Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools.Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc., 2006.
  • Singleton, Glenn E. and Curtis Linton. Facilitator’s guide to courageous conversations about race.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006.

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