Public, charter schools both fail on diversity issues 


I dropped out many times between middle and high school.

Few administrators or teachers contextualized my behavior as part of what was happening in my life. They saw it as my personal failure. (Adverse Childhood Experiences weren’t being talked about then.)

After I left high school, I took my GED and passed without studying — my aptitude was never the problem. But finding connection in school — feeling like I belonged — while also dealing with struggles at home had proved challenging. I rebelled without understanding where my anger came from.

My family was different. My teachers didn’t look like me, and I rarely heard about the contributions made by people of color in school.

Later, as a young mother, I wanted something different for my kids. I was lucky to be surrounded and supported by many school choice advocates and people who were actively working to close the achievement gap for kids of color. To continue formulating my parental advocacy and understanding, I immersed myself in meetings run by the local Black Alliance for Educational Options, and even traveled to a 2007 BAEO symposium in Philadelphia to hear founder Howard Fuller talk about school choice as the “parents’ choice.”

Although I don’t necessarily disagree with that, I quickly discovered there is no magic bullet in any system.

As a young mom, living without a partner, I worked part-time, attended school, and was strapped financially. But I still felt it was paramount to provide my kids with educational opportunities in addition to their basic needs. Knowing the statistics, knowing that, in the 21st century, children of color were still fighting for equitable education everywhere, I decided to enroll my kids in schools that could provide creative and innovative academic experiences. I put my eldest son (then in kindergarten) on the waiting list for a charter school across town that he would attend during first and second grade.

But after my divorce was finalized, life changed. I moved all my kids to the public school up the street for the sake of convenience. As the years passed, my eldest son attended mostly traditional public schools, while my younger two kids mostly went to charters.

I have seen the same problem in both systems: diverse elementary school classes that become more white as the kids go to middle school, and then high school (and kids of color drop out). I also found that I had far more challenges with my two sons than I did with my daughter, who is white-passing. I felt I could never let up on my fight to keep my sons in school.
There’s a lot of controversy over whether charters or traditional public schools are better. To me, public vs. charter is not the root problem; systemic inequity is. So I was encouraged to hear about a state bill (House Bill 1192) that would ensure culturally competent history is provided to Colorado students. According to a press release, under the bill, a 16 member committee, “...[would] provide recommendations to the Department of Education so that ... standards and programs accurately reflect the history, cultural and social contributions and civil government of the United States and Colorado, including the contributions and influence of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and reflecting them accurately and inclusively.”

Diversity should be a valued competency of any education system. Teaching these principles shouldn’t be solely the responsibility of schools in certain areas, or schools with a high percentage of people of color, or schools that happen to have more woke teachers and administrators.

At some point we have to be honest about what is happening here and talk about our individual and systematic contributions to the achievement gap. A lot of times people blame our schools’ lack of diverse lessons on a lack of diverse teachers. But all that does is speak volumes about how important it is to make sure all of our kids are graduating and entering professional-level careers.

If not, we are failing the “othered” children: kids of color and those in lower socioeconomic households. By the way, in a country where a small percentage of people hold almost all the wealth, that’s the majority of children.

Sponsored: Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.


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