We hear a lot about education reform during election season, but rarely does the topic of our state’s deep racial inequities come up in the conversation. This is true despite the overwhelming evidence that children of color, many of whom live in high-poverty neighborhoods and attend high-poverty schools, are facing long-term, systemic barriers to their success beginning at birth and continuing into adulthood.
The League has documented the unacceptable inequities in educational outcomes. Children of color:
- Are less likely to be reading proficiently by third grade
- Are more likely to be retained in grade
- Change schools more frequently
- Miss more school days
- Are less likely to graduate from high school on-time.
And, despite growing evidence that having even a single same-race teacher can increase performance on standardized tests—especially for economically disadvantaged boys—over 90% of Michigan teachers are White. Exposure to racial and ethnic diversity through the schools is not only important for children of color. In schools with predominately White children and youths, students can have little exposure to teachers of color—so they miss out on the benefits of diversity for children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Educational disparities do not occur in a vacuum. They can be traced to public policies and budgets that have limited employment and housing options for many parents, failed to adequately recognize the added costs of teaching children who live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and tried to fix schools by addressing only what happens within the schoolhouse doors.
We’re hopeful that the issue of racial inequities will begin to play a bigger role in the push for education reform. Anyone with a stake in Michigan’s future should pay attention to the barriers that children of color face in our schools and neighborhoods. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has taken steps to raise awareness by holding a series of hearings to examine the issue of discrimination in Michigan’s K-12 schools, including one in Detroit on Nov. 19.
A high-quality education is a path to equity for children in Michigan—a path that has been blocked for too many children of color. Michigan can and must do better by investing in efforts to reduce poverty, improving access to high-quality early intervention and learning programs, increasing supports for early literacy, and focusing state funds on students with the highest needs.