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Credit: Mia Kim

Panelists from the Graduate School of Education discussed racism in lower level schooling at a virtual event on Tuesday evening.

The event, called "The Education System: Preschool, Elementary School, and High School," is the eighth in a 13-part preceptorial series titled “Racism and Anti-Racism in Contemporary America."  Panelists included GSE professor Vivian Gadsden, Senior Policy Advisor at the Learning Policy Institute Janel George, GSE Postdoctoral Fellow Leah Gillion, and GSE Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs and Diversity Jessie Harper.

The panel began with a discussion of COVID-19's disproportionate impact on students of color and low-income students in the United States education system. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend school virtually and less likely to have access to necessary resources, such as devices, internet access, and live contact with teachers, according to a report from McKinsey & Company. 

Annenberg professor and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program Faculty Director Michael Delli Carpini, who moderated the event, emphasized that these disparities did not begin with the onset of COVID-19, as people of color disproportionately encounter similar issues during in-person learning. 

Panelists critiqued the use of excessive disciplinary action against Black students in schools, calling it cruel treatment. Black and Hispanic students are suspended at significantly higher rates than white students. A 2020 report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Learning Policy Institute found that Black students lost 103 days of school per 100 students enrolled, 82 more days than the 21 days white students lost as a result of out-of-school suspensions. 

Harper shared the story of 15-year-old Christel, a Black girl from Beecher Terrace, Kentucky who was arrested for skipping school and getting in a fight in 2013. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, told The Atlantic that kids from communities like Christel's are likely to attend schools with zero-tolerance policies, where schoolyard fights can end in arrest. Harper said the story illustrates how students of color face harsher forms of discipline in magnitude and quantity when compared to white students. 

Panelists from the Graduate School of Education discussed racism in the preschool, elementary, and high school education systems over Zoom in "The Education System: Preschool, Elementary School, and High School."

In addition to higher rates of suspension, Gillion said these biases also subject Black students to a harsher grading system than their white peers. 

George added that Black students also deal with underlying biases that impact the quality of education they receive. 

“It's the resources and equities including inexperienced educators that characterize highly segregated, under-resourced schools that serve a lot of students of color,” George said. 

The panelists agreed that many of these educational disparities stem from stratification starting at a young age when students are placed into academic levels or tracks. If students are placed in a top reading group early on, they will still be in the top reading group by the time they reach high school, Gadsden explained. Many students of color and low-income students can become stuck in a lower-level early on without many opportunities to move up, she added. 

Educational disparities can also be traced to where students live, which determines the quality of schools they can attend. Panelists suggested adding affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods with good schools to make the education system more equitable. Making public transportation more accessible can also help students get to school more easily.  

Tuesday's event was the first of two events in the preceptorial series focused on education. On March 16, the SNF Paideia Program will host a panel focused on higher education, which will be co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Social Equity & Community, the Office of the Provost, the Andrea Mitchell Center, Civic House, and New Student Orientation and Academic Initiatives as part of the Year of Civic Engagement. 

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