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Can Everyone Get Equal Opportunities?

In light of recent events I’m going to take a minute to talk about something most of us avoid on a regular basis: race. More specifically, racial bias and inequality.

It’s naïve, and frankly, foolish to think that racism no longer exists in this world, let alone this country. Everyone may not experience it all the time and in the same ways, but there are countless others who do. Even small things like a woman clutching her purse a little tighter when walking past a black man, or assuming that the Hispanic-looking girl in your class speaks fluent Spanish, or assuming that the white person in line at Starbucks has no idea what it’s like living on minimum wage all fall under the umbrella of racism. No one is saying that those people will automatically think violently against anyone else, but they are trained to think a certain way about certain people without any personal experiences to reference. The problem comes when those who are faced with adversity have no idea how to deal with it, and being called out for racist thinking automatically leads to the wrong kind of over-defensive backpedaling.

If the recent protests and riots against police brutality in America have taught us anything, it’s that racial tensions are still high as ever, people of minority races (but predominantly black) feel misrepresented and unfairly persecuted, and that media coverage is still one of the biggest manipulative, driving forces in how people react and form opinions on the situation.

It’s also important to note that while there are riots happening as a result of the anger felt toward being a misrepresented minority, there are also peaceful protests and dialogues happening at the same time. Both groups are hoping for the same goal of fairness and equality, it’s just the means of getting there that differ. And it’s the media coverage that we see on the news that shapes our perceptions on how things are really happening outside of our own little worlds.

I believe this works the same way for the education reform movement.

I think it’s safe to assume that all people want the same goal when it comes to education for our children: that all students have an opportunity to learn everything they can from educators who are passionate about teaching in a place that caters to the individual needs of each student regardless of who they are or where they come from. But it’s the constant back and forth between politicians, educators, and businessmen that stops this from becoming a reality.

There doesn’t seem to be a disconnection in communication when it comes to expressing the ultimate goal for education, just in the practice of making things happen as they should. In an article written by NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, she expresses a desire for an “Opportunity Dashboard” that draws attention to different districts’ access to things like advanced coursework, qualified teachers, and specialized support, in order for better accountability for poor academic performance. In other words, instead of the old NCLB system that rewards schools who generally do well and withholds funding from those that do poorly, each district will be accounted for based on their educational opportunity standings. (The Opportunity Dashboard is also explained in another article found here)

The idea that with this new system schools that do poorly because they are in a poor region will receive the appropriate attention and funding is great, but still seems like a bit of a pipe dream to me. The old NCLB law stated a desire for accountability, but look where that ended up. Just because the attention is drawn to those who need help doesn’t automatically mean that those in charge will properly cater to their needs. And while I think that this “dashboard” is a good idea, and great step in the right direction toward getting all schools on the same equal footing, I think that there is a much bigger fight that needs to be resolved before it reaches education: racial bias and inequality.

It may seem like race-skewed reporting, but it is a fact that schools that don’t perform well academically are generally those located in impoverished regions, and the majority of the population living in those regions is part of the minority. Therefore, those people are more likely to be misrepresented to the public (or to the people in charge of education reform/standards), and the wrong kind of defensive backpedaling will happen instead, like funds given to the wrong people for the wrong reasons; a new computer lab doesn’t do much for a hungry belly.

Change needs to come from a united community. Rather than just depending on one group to fix the problem, everyone affected should have some say in how things should be run. With regards to education, it shouldn’t just be up to government-based standards to elicit change, but the joint efforts of everyone in the community working together toward a common goal, money and otherwise.

And until we can get everyone on the same page, I’m afraid that equal opportunities for every person (and student) are still a long ways away.

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>