Even as we celebrate the success of Democrats on Capitol Hill and in elected offices across the country, highlighted by the most diverse Congressional class in history, we have work to do. A lot of it.
Let’s remember Stacey Abrams, who successfully challenged an establishment Democratic insider to become the first Black woman nominated to run for Governor of Georgia. Despite record turnout, as well as the endorsements of former Georgia Governor and U.S. President Jimmy Carter, President Barack Obama, a multitude of elected officials, local and civil rights leaders, labor unions, and political and issue advocacy organizations, she lost to Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Lack of fundraising, poor field work, or inexperienced campaigners did not contribute to this defeat, but rather the ever present influence of institutional racism. Despite incremental progress, occurring at a glacial pace, institutional racism pervades nearly every system of government created since the founding of our government when we were a British colony.
In Georgia, Kemp leveraged the resources of his office, which he did not step down from until after the election, to implement an intentional campaign of voter suppression. By preventing people of color from voting for the candidate of their choice under the guise of preventing fraud by requiring citizens to present identification matching that of polling records, he successfully used a broken system to maintain the status quo of white power.
Now, I know it may come as a shock for some of you to hear — but institutional racism is also *in fact* alive and well right here in “progressive” Massachusetts.
Right here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, children are actively being subjected to broken, mismanaged, and racist educational systems whose failures systemically and generationally have left Black and Latino students behind. Yet another example of governments that far too often lock in the structures and policies that maintain white supremacy.
This is why change cannot work along the margins and thru well-intentioned rhetoric.
We must work to change the system, and to remember that “power concedes nothing without demand”.
So, it’s not that surprising that as the Governor of Massachusetts and the state legislature were being sworn in last week, campaigns are now actively being pushed by a multitude of special interest groups to increase funding for public schools in an effort that will not only protect — but will lock in the status quo. That may not be the intent, but it is surely what the outcome will be.
The same broken, mismanaged, racist system that has given us large achievement gaps in education for kids of color and those from low-income families.
Achievement gaps that ultimately lead children like mine to poverty, incarceration and death without intentional disruption.
Massachusetts has one the largest gaps in educational achievement for people of color. The inequality is so hidden that 9 out of 10 parents believe their children are performing at grade level, when, in actuality, the result is less than 50%. In the cases of kids of color, only 30% are performing at grade level. Nearly every city in the district where the majority of children are of color (Boston, Lowell, Fall River, Springfield, Holyoke, Lynn, Chelsea) is also home to the worst schools.
These disparities are stark:
- In Springfield,there are public schools where 90% of students are not at grade level in Math or Reading.
- In Boston at least 75% of Black students and 77% of Latino students are not at grade level in Math or Reading from K-8.
- The three cities whose schools are currently under receivership (Lawrence, Holyoke, Southbridge), all have some the largest Latino populations in the state. In other words, no school system under receivership has a majority white student population.
And while “more funding” is a noble endeavor (and I’m not arguing against more funding), some of these districts have proven they aren’t competent enough to manage an influx of funding. Mismanagement on the part of superintendents who create bloated “central offices”, and school committees that negotiate fiscally irresponsible contracts with a lack of accountability for students’ performance have failed in their fiduciary responsibility, and, most of all, they have failed our communities and our children.
That’s not something we should reward with a flood of more cash.
It’s something we should change.
Superintendents coach our educational teams, and are tasked with managing the strategy to assist our kids in achieving their goals. If some of the the current superintendents were managing sports teams, they’d be fired.
In Boston, the superintendent shared information with ICE, and built mistrust with families already under duress from the Trump administration. More than half of the Boston Public Schools are in desperate need of state intervention for underperformance that dances with being a violation of the Massachusetts constitution. Not to mention that bloated Bolling Building.
In New Bedford, the mayor (the superintendent’s boss) is continuing to attack schools that successfully educate kids of color, while the district schools under his authority are considered a “low performing” district requiring state intervention. Again, where is the accountability by the school committee?
In Springfield, the superintendent recently presented to the school committee that the district was “out-performing” the state in academics. This is impossible as 75% of the Springfield Public Schools are literally among the lowest performing schools in the state. Five of the schools are literally the worst performing in the state overall.
In Holyoke, a group of superintendents from neighboring communities (who mostly do not educate or work with urban or minority children) wrote a letter opposing the legal expansion of a school that promotes equity in the classroom for students of color. They opted to stop progress through a political process, because they have no policy solution. These superintendents are literally working to hold back students of color.
Finally, within the past year, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents blocked legislation that would have provided MORE money to ensure their ability to feed breakfast to children in every school. Their rationale? FREE MONEY to FEED CHILDREN would require “too much” work.
Hungry kids can’t learn. Feeding them is too much work.
Given all this, it is stunning that this particular group is now asking for MORE money — again, without any accountability at all.
This is not how we are going to help district schools educate children of color and fix our school systems. This will not keep children like mine farther away from institutions and death.
Our children and families in Massachusetts deserve better.
Better school committees.
And until we get a commitment to do better, we need to continue to organize and to work to get what we want.
And what we want is justice — not blank checks.