Labels such as “low-income”, “immigrant”, and “single-parent household” once described only a small group of students at-risk of falling through the cracks of America's school system. However, as our country continues to change socially and economically, maximizing success in school and life requires that parents, educators, and decision-makers alike acknowledge that our minority student population is quickly becoming the majority of our learners.
47% of students now qualify for free or reduced lunch--an economic indicator for those living in households with incomes less than 200 times the poverty line. Additionally, 36% of U.S. citizens now identify as a race or ethnicity other than white. In fact, for the first time ever, the majority of babies in the U.S. ages five years and younger are racial minorities.
As the number of low-income and racial minority students grows to become the majority, a light shines brighter on the systemic flaws of our educational system and the need for more inclusive educational models. Studies continue to find that low-income and minority students are the most likely to repeat grades, face disciplinary action, fail to graduate from high school and miss out on higher education. Alarmingly, as the data above regarding America's demographic change suggests, more students are susceptible to these outcomes than ever before.
Eliminating persistent educational attainment and life outcome gaps between underserved students and their peers will require schools to find new ways to meet the diversifying needs of students.
The circumstances of a child’s background can no longer be an excuse for continued failure in our schools.
Aundrea’s 3 Ways to Better Include Minorities in Education Policy
1. Raise expectations: The underachievement of low-income and minority students across generations has shaped low-expectations for the advancements these students can make in school. Case in point: my friend Jamil's account of his experience as an African American male in school. Despite being a bright student now on his way to law school, Jamil notes:
"I feel that the expectations for me are low, because not many expect me to get an education or care about my education."
We cannot miss opportunities to motivate and mentor this growing group of students to achieve in learning and then later in career and life. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: "My Brother's Keeper" and Empowering Boys of Color, empowering underserved students begins with changing mindsets about who can succeed in school. Additionally, we must create policies and practices that help students become active agents in shaping their outcomes in life.
2. Increase parental involvement: Studies prove that children from single-parent homes–which disproportionately characterize low-income and minority students–are less likely to graduate from high school. Where parental involvement is lacking at home, schools have either blamed absent parents for the shortcoming of students or assumed the role of paternal figures themselves. While the latter stance can be beneficial to students--especially as additional research demonstrates that interaction with even one adult who cares can greatly impact a child’s life--schools must still do more to reach out to parents and incentivize involvement in their student's education. Finding ways to include all parents is vital to creating a cohesive network of support that extends to all areas of a child's life.
3. Promote personalized learning: A growing need for school models that provide flexibility to serve the unique strengths, challenges, and interests of individual students exists. One-size-fits-all learning models have continuously failed to help students meet academic benchmarks and prepare them for their adult lives. Whether by increasing school choice in states or by integrating innovative learning models into our traditional public schools, personalized learning could help maximize academic and life success for more students.
Education is one of the most powerful tools for increasing economic upward mobility. Yet, access to high quality (or even adequate education) continues to be skewed across class and racial lines. This increasingly means that the majority of our students are being underserved and overlooked. As minorities now constitute a large segment of our communities, tax base, workforce, and economy, there is even greater urgency to close once and for all persistent achievement gaps and ensure all students have a shot at academic success. By acknowledging our Minority-Majority student population and implementing sound policies to eliminate disparity-creating barriers, America's future will be brighter than ever.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.What is your prescription to close the educational gap and help all our students achieve in school and later in life ?