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Time for Radical Revision of what Public Education Can Look Like for Black Students & Families


Black History Month offers an important time to examine issues of racial justice in communities and our education system. When public education was dreamed up by its founders, Horace Mann and Thomas Jefferson, neither person envisioned Black students attending integrated schools. That much is evident when we look at the history of schooling in America and its impact on Black youth and families.

The first recognized public school was in 1639. Black students did not attend recognized public schools until the 1860s – more than 200 years later. The long history of exclusion and exploitation of Black communities can be traced in American schooling – from the long and bleak, and still present history of segregation, to the isolation and sharp criminalization of Black students in low-quality schools where Black students are projected to fail. Additionally, Black students especially were targeted through zero-tolerance policies that in turn fueled the school-to-prison & poverty pipeline, where classrooms and schools look more like prisons, rather than places of learning. But recent wins with Local Control Funding Formula and policies emphasizing funding for students who need it most has opened the door for the continued evolution of equity in our schools. Still, racial equity continues to elude California schools. Black students, in particular, continue to be on the bottom of most Academic indicators.

“Each day that we experience the fear and the violence of police brutality, of immigration raids, of neglect and disinvestment in our communities — is another day that we are told that our lives do not matter. That our education does not matter. But we are here to tell you that the present and future success of California relies upon a racially just education for all young people. Because our voices do matter!”

– Draquari McGhee, CFJ Fresno Youth Leader

To Achieve Racial Equity

To achieve racial equity for Black students, we have a long ways to go. Many Black students like Draquari live under the constant fear of police violence, and racial profiling in and outside of school. In California, 1 in 3 Black students does not graduate with his or her class. By the age of 14, at least 25 percent of Black students will have a parent that is or was incarcerated at some point during their childhood — this number jumps significantly when close relatives are taken in consideration. Low expectations, rampant inequality in low-income Black communities, and lack of access to stable housing and healthy foods create barriers for success for millions of Black students.

But there is hope for change. Recent momentum around Black Lives Matters at School, culturally responsive teaching and inclusive curriculum, social, emotional learning and restorative justice all are ways the educational movement is starting to dismantle the built-in bias of the past.

What We Know

CFJ knows this is only a start though and that’s why we’re calling for a radical reimagining of what our public schools can look like in community to be places where students and families are actively engaged, invested in and elevated to have their voices heard and reflected in policies. Many may wonder if focusing on schools will be enough in the fight for racial justice, but our schools are reflections of society, and leading together with students, parents, teachers, and administrators, we can help shape a brighter future and model for what our nation can one day be. To learn more about how we can achieve racial equity in our schools check out our report on Race and Relationships.

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