The African American Achievement Gap and COVID-19: Family Voice and Reimagining What Comes Next

COVID-19 has changed everything and education as we know it will forever be changed. We are astutely aware of how it is bringing disparities and inequities within our community to full view. Of course COVID-19 didn’t bring them about as much as expose the institutional trauma of racism and anti-blackness of the institutions we rely on. Our liberation through education has always been at risk within these systems, some say now more than ever. Yet we can be sure our ancestors experienced worse when it came to guaranteeing the civil right to access a quality education. We are at a moment of reflection and re-invigorating our struggle to quality education and the liberation of our people.

Education in California: How will we adjust? 

We are witnessing a process I’m sure many before had never contemplated – absolutely turning on the head how and where we ensure our children are educated. Education must continue but how and with what resources is front of mind.

The state level largely dictates California’s educational policy. We are obligated to follow guidance from the state and federal government. While local funding does fuel our school systems, we are primarily dependent on state and federal funding – and thereby their rules and guidance.

Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond lead this work at the state level. The Governor has driven much of the legislative and budgetary response to the COVID-19 impact on education. Superintendent Thurmond is responsible for the academic guidance for the 6 million school-age children of California – African Americans students make up 5.4% of that population.  They make up roughly 22% of Oakland’s students.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is providing guidance for the shift every school district is making to distance learning, instruction of students with special needs, assessment, and teacher professional development. He has also had to manage and deal with labor during this unprecedented time.

What we need as an African American Community is disaggregated data on how our children are being served. What are school districts that serve African Americans doing, and what is working? What’s not working?

What happens next and how can we sharing the achievement gap?

I’m thinking about post COVID-19. We know we are staring at an achievement gap that is only growing, and I ask what are we doing now to prepare for what comes next? I’m also thinking that our community won’t have the same amount of time or patience to contemplate guidance that is being designed hundreds and thousands of miles away from our families, students and educators here in Oakland. 

It is on every district, family and student to be about the redesign of our education system and provide the real guidance to leaders on what is needed. Who are the innovators in the system, who have been deeply impacted by COVID-19. I know there are folks organizing within education that are reflective of the student population most affected. 

Importance of Parent Voice: Rhetoric or Realness?

Conversations with parents are essential during this time. They are gaining valuable insights into their children’s learning process. I believe we are a critical moment where we can learn as educators, policy makers and advocates how we are going to realign this system. 

If parent voice was ever a part of your rhetoric, in the youth development sector or educational institutions, we now can see just how important it is to be linked to families. Our success and students’ success is predicated on how well we do with incorporating and acknowledging parent and guardians voices. Our own authenticity about parent voice is being tested. Rhetoric or Realness? 

Families know now more than ever what it means to miss consecutive days of school, not be engaged and not know if there is really support. And educators are painfully seeing those students that were already disconnected are now even further away. There are new tools, and frankly, old tools that we better activate now. If we weren’t acting with urgency before, we better be now.

Reflection on What Happened and Reimagining What Comes Next 

And yes, our educators: leaders at schools, teachers in classrooms, after-school providers , tutors and mentors, are you being reflective during this period? When you were dramatically pulled away from your students and your craft was deeply impacted – were your students ready and did they have the foundation we were supposed to provide for them?

This is the moment to retool and rethink how we are going to be in relationship with families. The models or tools we chose not to invest in because of cost before need to be reevaluated. Will we look deeply at those strategies we didn’t activate enough to eliminate and interrupt chronic absenteeism, summer slide and what was happening pre corona students being undereducated daily in our institutions.

So this end of the school year and summer approaching we are different. This week as the children continue to shelter in place and end their school year without the usual excitement for summer activities, please maintain our physical distance to keep each other safe. But don’t social dIstance, don’t turn off that creativity and innovation we need for our children right now. This is our time to RE-Imagine and collectively create the pressure – not to go back to normal. In our most self determined mindset, we need to demand access and truly attend to this Achievement and Opportunity Gap.

What do you think?

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