Transforming Our Schools Requires Building Our Democracy
There is no question that my state—Minnesota—is failing our children of color. Here in Minnesota, the racial opportunity gap in education is among the worst in the nation. In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, only 49.9 percent of African-Americans graduated from high school on time in 2012, while 82.7 percent of white students did, according to the nonprofit group, Minnesota Compass. This is in the context of rapidly changing demographics. By 2040, 43 percent of the metropolitan area will be people of color (up from 16.7 percent in 2000).
As people of faith and as Minnesotans, we believe equitable access to a high-quality public education is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and we cannot afford to allow our public schools to fail.
However, the debate over racial equity in public education has become increasingly polarized. Many look to cast blame, or offer simplified silver-bullet solutions. Others succumb to the temptation to wash their hands of any responsibility, pointing to underlying social problems which seem just too big to solve.
Increasingly, many are looking to the private sector for solutions—stating that if there were more competition, choice, and centralized control in the hands of fewer people, schools would become more "accountable" to outcomes. But the critical question is "Accountable to whom?"
Only public institutions have the capacity to be rigorously accountable to the interests of communities. But this potential has to be realized through deep, systemic, and powerful organizing of parents, students, and communities of color. And, then, the process of co-creating with teachers, school officials, other community stakeholders, and public officials an authentic shared commitment to be collectively accountable, ALL of us accountable, for transformed outcomes for our children.
The details of those solutions cannot be captured in a short essay. The solutions must be inclusive, equitable, based on solid research, yet driven by the urgency of the problem. They must be grounded in a clear-eyed analysis of the dynamics, inputs, and outcomes of the education system. And all our "solutions" must be co-created and collectively owned. If we do this harder, slower work and we work to shift power into the hands of those most affected, we will all be rewarded with more accountable, more robust, more vibrant, more imaginative, and more loving public schools where all of our children can thrive.
In our rapidly diversifying nation, with a rapidly aging population, working toward racial equity in education is not just the moral course, it is also the necessary course.
Doran Schrantz is the executive director of ISAIAH, a faith-based, community-organizing organization in Minnesota committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Ms. Schrantz has worked in community organizing for more than 13 years and has led local, regional, and state campaigns. Among ISAIAH's primary initiatives is working to advance equitable, accessible public education for all children in Minnesota.