We Attended Your ALL WHITE PANEL on Educational Equity: Here’s What We Thought.

By Ed Shoemaker, Massachusetts Parents United

When you decide to go to an event called “SUPERINTENDENTS DEMAND EDUCATIONAL EQUITY FOR ALL STUDENTS” hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, one would think a question about equity will be welcomed. 

I mean, come on. You’re “demanding educational equity” right?

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But that’s not what happened last night at an ALL WHITE PANEL held in Malden — instead, we were completely shut down when asking a fair simple question around whether districts could be trusted to use an additional influx of resources into schools to directly address the achievement gap.

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The event began with a presentation of data detailing the impact of underfunding the State’s Foundation budget. Then, the ALL WHITE PANEL discussed the calculations and trade offs school districts and politicians have to make when squaring the school budget.

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THE ALL WHITE PANEL explained that the biggest cost were health care, (especially for the retirees) special education and other legal requirements that cause schools to underfund professional development — putting teachers at risk of not being able to re-certify, laying off non-special education teachers and increasing class sizes.

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I was missing the part where we talked about educational equity for black and brown students. The consequences of how a lack of educational equity can lead a child directly into the school to prison pipeline.

At the end of the event there was time for the attendees to ask questions of the ALL WHITE PANEL and join in on the discussion. All the people who asked a question before me got thoughtful response from multiple members of the ALL WHITE PANEL.

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A teacher from Andover talked about the importance of changing the formula and said he recognized that this would likely mean less money for Andover but that towns like Andover can afford it on their own. Which makes sense if they can raise funds in other ways locally if they want the additional investment but not at the expense and detriment to urban and gateway school districts. (And we know that equity and equality are two different things, right?)

A teacher from Malden Public Schools asked the ALL WHITE PANEL to take a pledge to support the “Fund Our Future” campaign and to strip accountability requirements. Most on the panel were in agreement, one pushed back a bit and stated accountability matters and that the state is never gonna just hand out money without making its being spent in a way that makes since. She also said that it’s a touchy political subject and didn’t want to get to into it.

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But what does any of this actually have to do with addressing real educational inequity in Massachusetts?

Here are the facts:

In Massachusetts, less than 1 in 3 Black and Latino fourth graders are on grade level in reading, HALF the rate for the state’s White students.

Only 28 percent of low-income eighth graders are on grade level in math, LESS THAN HALF the rate for higher income students.

1 in 3 English learners don’t graduate on time, 1 in 7 drop out of school entirely.

Less than 1 in 3 Black and Latino students who take the SAT meet college-readiness benchmarks in reading and math, compared to TWO THIRDS of their White peers.

Too many graduates of color don’t enroll in postsecondary education at all, and among those that do, too many have to take remedial courses.

Latino students and students from low-income families are less likely to access early childhood education programs.

Black and Latino students in Massachusetts are three times more likely than White students to be assigned to a teacher who lacks content expertise in the subject they teach.

Black and Latino students are underrepresented among students completing AP courses, and overrepresented among students suspended out-of-school.

These disparities in achievement are the direct result of inequities in opportunity in education. And yet we are at a meeting called “SUPERINTENDENTS DEMAND EDUCATIONAL EQUITY FOR ALL STUDENTS” (***ALL students***) and we are FAILING to address the inequities that Black and Latino students have been facing for YEARS.

So then I got up and decided to get up to the mic and ask the following:

“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. 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 schools. Better superintendents. Better school committees. And what we want is justice — not blank checks. What’s the specific plan to address the crisis around the achievement gap in Massachusetts with this additional funding? We are 48th in the nation when it comes to the achievement gap!  Why were these events scheduled three in the same night and none covering Western MA given the challenges in places like Springfield and Holyoke?”

Pretty reasonable question, I think. I mean — you should be able to answer how you plan to tackle the achievement gap if that’s actually what you intend to do.

But the response I received from the ALL WHITE PANEL made me sick to my stomach. One panelist defensively replied that they had done meetings like this last year in Western Mass and had received “a lot of good feedback” and the snorted that “all of us here care about children” then placed the mic down clearly annoyed, and no other panelist had anything further to say.

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Next question.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Looks like someone’s WHITE FRAGILITY may have been triggered.

Perhaps we can’t blame the superintendents for their lack of understanding when it comes to the urgency around addressing REAL educational inequity and broken systems. I mean, only 12 out of 267 (4%) of school districts in Massachusetts are led by people of color.

Maybe that’s why they just don’t get it?

Needless to say, I’m hoping we have a new and better conversation about educational equity soon.

What do you think?

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