Fixing the Miseducation of Black Children

Show Me the Numbers: Black students need parent-school partnerships. Here's how to build those bridges.

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(The Root) — On July 5, Ivory Kaleb Toldson was born. He is my first son and second child. During his birth I relived the joy, wonderment and jitters that I experienced in 2007 when my daughter, Makena, was born.

Like millions of parents, I want the best education for my children. As a black parent, I am cognizant of the persistent racial inequities and biases in the school system. Black children need to be exposed to a curriculum that builds on their strengths, affirms their culture and treats them with dignity and compassion.

Notwithstanding many problems that schools are having educating black children, I am optimistic that black children can succeed in any type of school (public, private or charter) in any environment (urban, suburban or rural). Through my years of research on academic success, I am convinced that the key to educating black children is to have schools build successful partnerships with black parents.

Today the relationship between black parents and schools is precarious, primarily because of antagonists and instigators. Most antagonists speak through a certain movement or organization. Teachers unions, reform movements and public-education advocates can be noble when they focus on children but destructive when they become antagonistic and defensive. For example, when public schools and teachers unions defend themselves against criticism, they often use apathetic black parents and poverty as scapegoats.

At the same time, black parents have become pawns of entities that are interested only in privatizing education in poor communities (while preserving segregated public education in affluent communities) and marginalizing teachers unions. Divisive and ineffective strategies, such as establishing “parent trigger” laws, arresting parents for students’ tardiness and instituting voucher programs, permeate from instigated conflicts between parents and schools.

However, the antagonists would not have power if it weren’t for a minority of dreadfully negligent parents; racist, classist and classless teachers and school administrators; and policies aimed at berating parents and punishing students. In professional dealings with schools, I heard a white school administrator describe black parents as “ghetto,” witnessed black parents passing through metal detectors at the school and routinely heard teachers of all races stigmatize children from single-parent homes.

For this entry of Show Me the Numbers, the Journal of Negro Education‘s monthly series with The Root, I outline what black parents should do to promote academic success among their children and what schools need to do to engage black parents.

What Do Schools Need From Black Parents?

Schools need black parents to participate in their children’s education, but without the best data, many schools have difficulty communicating what this means. The implicit messages that many schools give black parents are that they need to stop being single, turn off the television sets and help their children with their homework. Based on the data, this advice is shortsighted and elusive.