September 9th, 2014
I am a longtime fan and admirer of Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, which she founded in 1973 to improve policies and programs for children.
I am in awe of anyone who can stomp on flames that never seem to burn out. How long can anybody do that?
When the Fayette County Public Schools’ Equity Council announced that it is sick and tired of being sick and tired over the number of suspensions of minority, disabled and poor children, over the lack of diversity in our teaching corps, and over the seemingly motionless narrowing of the achievement gap, the first person I thought of was Edelman.
The Equity Council’s charge is to advise the school board about the inequities that exist in our public school system. Last week, members reviewed the system’s fourth annual equity scorecard, and the results were pitiful.
“We’ve talked and we’ve talked and we’ve talked,” council chairman Roy Woods told a Herald-Leader reporter. “We have no forward movement. Programs are out there, but it’s not working for all kids.”
Brian Hodge, chairman of the council’s suspension committee, said in a letter to fellow council members, “We have asked the district for solutions while trying to be patient, and it appears all we get are promises that things are gonna get better, but yet they never do.”
That is the same sentiment voiced in 1994, when the board established the council.
Then, the Rev. Dana Jones of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, chairman of the Equity Task Force, the precursor to the council, told the board, “I think we have a very serious problem.”
That also was the concerns voiced in 2001, when black leaders rallied against public school officials, saying they had “no confidence, no trust” in what officials were doing. Those leaders had five concerns that were getting only lip service, including the achievement gap, suspension rates and personnel diversity.
“Something must be done to address these concerns,” the Rev. Bob Brown, a former Equity Council member, said in 2001. “We’re fighting for survival in this system.”
Now, 20 years after the Equity Council was established, the problem remains. Fayette County is not doing right by its children, and the folks leading our schools don’t seem to be concerned enough to change that culture.
Twenty years, half the time Edelman has been battling for our children, and the council’s frustration level is apparently boiling over.
In her Child Watch Column dated Aug. 29, Edelman could have been talking about Fayette County.
“Everybody in the classroom and teaching children today — when for the first time white students will no longer be the majority in our nation’s public schools — needs to be culturally sensitive and culturally trained,” Edelman wrote. “This is true for all child-serving institutions. We need to watch out for the subtle as well as the overt ways in which we treat non-white and white children and those who are poor differently.”
In that piece, Edelman noted that Terrell Strayhorn, an Ohio State University professor, said at a symposium that his 14-year-old son asked him why he had gotten in trouble for speaking out of turn, but his white female classmate who had done the same thing was praised for being excited about learning.
She said Strayhorn told participants, “There are lots of black and brown boys who are often penalized for committing the same exact act that non-black and non-brown, usually white kids, commit in school — and some students are praised for certain behaviors that other kids are penalized for. It sends a very mixed message, because my son is confused.”
Edelman went on to say that other roadblocks to the success of our children exist and that the “disparate treatment of black children in the classroom from the earliest years, especially black boys,” discourages them, often knocking them off the path to college, “and burdens them with an emotional toll they don’t deserve.”
In discussing programs that work, Edelman said, Strayhorn “emphasized the need for positive interventions based on proven designs — because in his program evaluation experience, he’s seen far too many well-intentioned efforts that lacked a measurable impact because good ideas weren’t well implemented.”
Is that our problem in Fayette County: good ideas that aren’t well implemented? Or is it that we talk good game but don’t follow through? Either way is very damaging to our children.
P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of the Lexington Fayette County Urban League, was a member of the Equity Task Force in 1994 and was an original member of the Equity Council when it was formed. He said he attended the equity meeting last week when Roy Woods expressed the frustrations of the council. It was déjà vu.
The lack of proven results in narrowing achievement differences, in lowering suspension rates, and in creating and equitable atmosphere in the school system has to fall in the lap of the school board, Peeples said.
“They are more concerned with adult issues than what is related to our kids,” he said. “It must emanate from the board that they are serious about equity.”
Groundhog days. Same old story: one step forward, two steps back. Use whatever phrase you want to describe the situation. The best phrase, however, will be “We have fixed this once and for all.”
It shouldn’t take another 20 years for us to say that.
The council will meet with the school board on Oct. 13. Maybe we ought to be there.