Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 11, 2019
Vol. 14
No. 23

Confronting the Crisis of Education Inequity

Teach me.
It was 20 years after the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education, and I was a sophomore in high school. I vividly remember sitting in my high school algebra class, and all I wanted was for the teacher to teach me, to teach all of us in class. Unfortunately, I was in a class where a white male teacher would present a few problems on the board and then sit at his desk, leaving us to complete our assignment with as little engagement and questioning as possible. In his mind, he had taught the material; whether we learned it or not was our problem.
In anger and desperation for knowledge, I approached him. I firmly planted my hands on his desk and asked, "Why won't you teach us?" He remained indifferent, unflinching, and sat in silence. I wondered, did he see me? Did he hear me? There was no movement, no expression, just his stoic presence. I felt invisible, powerless. I didn't know what to do. Why wasn't my teacher committed to providing me an opportunity to learn in his classroom?

The Racial Opportunity Gap

I attended school in a predominately minority urban area where busy streets, storefront businesses, and brick apartment buildings were fixtures of the cityscape. While I was motivated to learn, my teachers did not appear to share the same enthusiasm for teaching. I quickly learned that it wasn't only the algebra class where I lacked opportunity for learning; it was my entire education—an education that lacked the rigor required to compete with students attending nearby suburban schools where resources were plentiful and manicured lawns lined the streets.
My low-level education yielded commensurately low SAT and ACT scores and left me ill-prepared me for college. Despite graduating in the top 5 percent of my high school graduating class, my education landed me in remedial courses during my first semester of college.
Reflecting on my schooling, I was never sure if I should blame myself, my teachers, or the educational system for the poor high school education I received. But one thing was clear by the time I got to college: As a Black student from a poor neighborhood, I had been set up for failure. But failure was never a part of my plan. I knew that if I was to succeed, I couldn't take pity on my circumstances. I had to persevere. Thank goodness I could read, because it was the tool that got me through. I taught myself how to learn.

A Silent Crisis

Over 40 years has passed since that sophomore high school math class. That moment has never left my mind. I can see that classroom clearly as if I am standing there today. Progress has been painstakingly slow. It pains me that 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have students in dire circumstances who question their ability to succeed and experience unmotivated teachers, below-par curricula, and limited resources and funding that bar them from equity and excellence in educational outcomes.
It is time to stop tip-toeing around, making things comfortable, being nice, or moving slow to go fast. When educators do these things, we work to benefit others who frankly may not have all students' best interests in mind. It is time for educators to address inequity and racial injustice at its core. This requires bold leadership from educators who seek to understand and confront issues of race, class, bias, and equity in education. If we fail to prepare and invest in these types of leaders and educators, we commit to ignorance.

We Demand Change

The assumption that all children would have educational opportunity and access was the cornerstone of American livelihood and democracy. Sixty-five years after Oliver Brown and his daughter Linda courageously took up the mantle for education equity, there is still much work to do. Inequity is a crisis that demands change.
This work requires moral urgency and fervor from educators if we are to do right by our students. Each year that we fail to make significant progress in tackling the roots of inequity, we abandon a large portion of students to an education that will not serve them well. I know—I was one of them.

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Discover ASCD's Professional Learning Services