Presented to the Board of Education August 11, 2015
I come to you tonight to request a serious time of reflection and open-mindedness with regard to the hot topic of student assignment.
In a tribute to the late President John F. Kennedy, a writer described President Kennedy by saying, “He was like a good teacher, instructing us in the realities and suggesting dreams.” This is what we are called to do now – instruct in realities, recognizing that true effort will inevitably involve an examination of some of the clearly unpleasant realities that plague our society. At the same time, we are to suggest dreams – the possibility of hope and change. We preach the idea of education being the key to a better future, especially now when an individual’s level of education is directly tied to the quality of his or her own life.
The problem with this business of dream-selling comes with the realities in which we often find ourselves delivering the message of education as a savior. I have worked with schools across this district and state. I have yet to see the benefits in any regard – academically, socially, emotionally, or psychologically – of hypersegregated schools.
As a former teacher in hypersegregated, high poverty schools, I always found myself begging the questions:
How can my students believe that education equals power when they have never been exposed to evidence of such? How can they even enter the pool of competition for post-secondary opportunities, be it college or career, when often the courses they need to do so may not even be offered to them? We know that poverty exists and will continue to exist in every public school. But, when 86% or more of a student population is living in this survival mode, the vicious cycle of poverty becomes nearly impossible to break. Every day is a test of the survival of the fittest.
Delivering a reality of equity has become a broken promise.
The reality is that students at schools hypersegregated along the lines of poverty are subject not just to fewer resources or less qualified instructors, but more importantly, fewer opportunities and a significantly lower standard of achievement.
The reality is that students of all socioeconomic classes intuitively understand when high expectations are held of them and when they are truly believed in by their teachers, leaders, and school culture.
The reality is that the world now, more than ever, is incredibly interconnected. This interconnectedness outlines the skills demanded of ALL students.
The reality is that segregated schools along any lines are inherently unequal. The very nature of our democracy is being threatened.
The reality is that integrated schools benefit students of all socioeconomic classes, where diversity isn’t just accepted, but embraced.
Complacency has become a greater sin than malevolence. There will never be a perfect time, setting, or situation to begin to discuss how to truly ensure the equity that every child deserves. Every day, hundreds of thousands of children’s futures lie in our hands. I encourage us to do the tough work of striking a balance between self-interest and investment in our future, to embrace an understanding of common humanity, and to truly investigate the best ways in which we can create equity of opportunity for EVERY child to be successful not just now, but as long-term contributors to a better future.
We know that this is a national problem, but let’s chart a different trajectory for our kids. How will Charlotte-Mecklenburg evaluate its current realities to suggest dreams of an even better future? Are we, as individuals, willing to embrace the realities of others and use that new understanding to serve today’s children? NOW is the time to decide.