EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Oct. 10, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters -“Color of Education Summit-Part 2.” Wolf is president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.
I have had many conversations over the past week and, quite frankly, over the past many years about what it will really take to address the opportunity gap and to achieve equity for all of our students. I have also watched so many district and school leaders and communities wrestle with this same question. What we know is that all too often we come up short, or we make a lot of efforts that do not lead to immediate or long-term changes in our schools.
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As we continue our month-long focus on educational equity, our guests on Education Matters last week remind us both of the history and present-day context that we must acknowledge and embrace when thinking about solutions that result in true equity. They also remind us of the efforts that are currently in motion that are making a difference for some students.
We heard from Dr. Sandy Darity, whose research focuses on inequality by race, class, and ethnicity — as well as the racial wealth gap, which in the United States, continues to widen. Between 1983 and 2013 white households saw their wealth increased by 14%, while black household wealth declined by 75% and the median Hispanic household wealth declined by 50%.
Dr. Darity’s research exposes just how systematic inequality persists in the form of housing discrimination, unequal education, police brutality, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, and massive wealth and opportunity gaps — all barriers to eliminating the student achievement gap that we must collectively address before we can hope for equity in our schools.
We heard from Shannon Bowman, a middle school educator in Wake County who has supported teachers to leverage their advisory periods and leadership focus to empower students with skills to grow in their social and emotional learning and address their learning differences.
With her guidance, students are learning to develop their own voices and understand what it is they need to succeed. Bettina Umstead, Chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, shared the specific steps educators, administrators, and the community are taking in Durham to address equity in meaningful and sustainable ways.
Our month-long Color of Education Summit is providing us with the time and space to hear and face data and facts that are not necessarily widely known or internalized as a critical part of our work. Wealth and health disparities that we are learning about must be part of how we address equity in our schools because they affect our families and students every day.
I am reminded by the importance of our efforts, but