School choice is an initiative for which Education Secretary Betsy Devos had championed as a life long dream. Her intention was to provide parents educational alternatives that would enhance the education of students in need. Many schools of choice, which are also called charter schools, service students of color. The attack by the Education Secretary limiting the protection from racism in schools has completely derailed any chance that the school choice agenda will continue to flourish.
Several news outlets have minimized the importance of the contributions of parents of color. The National Alliance for Public Charter School reports that charter schools enroll 46 percent low income students and 27 percent Black and Latino students. As of the school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily. The charter school choice agenda has been derailed due to the U.S. Department of Education creating a trust gap by eliminating its responsibilities in the area of civil rights.
The new administration has responded to the civil rights of students of color by reversing the advances made during the Obama Administration. Instead of increasing staff to handle the increased workload caused by policies that took civil rights seriously, Betsy Devos has reduced the staff. Then she put in charge of the Office of Civil Rights Candace Jackson. Candace Jackson is a white woman who thinks policies meant to give students of color opportunities that white kids already enjoy are “reverse discrimination.” This recent vacation sends the message to the very constituents that Devos seeks to place as part of the school choice agenda that they have very little value or choice.
Students of color are jeopardized by disproportionate discipline. In April, the U.S. Department of Education released data that showed that even while the overall number of suspensions declined nationally, racial disparities persisted as schools still disproportionally subjected African-American students to suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement. For example, African-American students were overrepresented in suspensions by about 23 percentage points.
Suspensions are related to higher rates of future anti-social behaviors and involvement in the juvenile justice system, and they even harm the academic performance of students who are not suspended. Reports indicate that given the wide discretion that school officials have when imposing discipline, their implicit bias may contribute to the school discipline gaps by causing them to judge students’ behavior differently based on the students’ race and sex.” Therefore, students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted each year when they miss class due to suspensions and expulsions—even for minor infractions of school rules. Betsy Devos has made it clear that she will not help to enforce or develop rules that hurt the same children that she wishes to benefit from the school choice agenda.
The behaviors of the U.S. Department of Education verify the need for Black parents to protect their children. Black parents prepare their children to live in a dual cultural world that involves helping them to develop skills for adult roles such as wage earners and parenthood in addition to negotiating a dominant society that has different cultural values and judges people by their skin color or ethnic background. Blacks who live in an urban society and a society that dislikes them for the color of their skin ensure they do not become victims by approaching people with caution, wariness, and a sense of distrust.
Schools of choice can eliminate the perception of the Betsey Devos Department of Education by shifting the perception of Black students. Students do better in school when they believe getting a good education will increase their chances for success. Students who perceive that teachers have favorable feelings toward them have higher achievement levels when teachers have positive views toward them. Children who have positive feelings regarding teachers have higher achievement levels. Black parents and students will not approach the school choice agenda with caution knowing that teachers will help them to achieve higher levels of achievement.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
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Woodstown-Pilesgrove Public Schools Superintendent of Schools
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