Education as a Civil Right: Are Our Students of Color Being Adequately Served?

Education was not a right that was always granted to people of color in the United States. In fact, during slavery, it was illegal for Black people to read. Denied their basic right to education, Black people educated themselves and fought for equality in schools knowing that resources were not balanced in these segregated environments. Brown v. Board of Education was a prime example of how the lack of integration in the US school system promoted inequality and injustice.

“After reviewing psychological studies showing black girls in segregated schools had low racial self-esteem, the [Supreme] Court concluded that separating children on the basis of race creates dangerous inferiority complexes that may adversely affect black children’s ability to learn.” (Thirteen)

While the Supreme Court knew the long-lasting mental and emotional effects of the case when it was first presented in 1952, prioritizing desegregating schools didn’t happen until the next decade with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Brown v. Board of Education was successful in changing the law, but the case not necessarily successful in changing mindsets and societal traditions.

A basic right like education felt more like a privilege than a constitutional promise. The quality of education that students of color received compared to white students was vast from the resources accessible to classrooms provided. “Brown v. Board of Education was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, and helped establish the precedent that ‘separate but equal’ education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all” (Brown v. Board of Education). The purpose of having civil rights was to implement equality, justice, and freedom and not only did the nation ignore that, but the Supreme Court did as well. These are the justices who are voted to guard the American people and their rights, but they failed to protect these rights granted to all people. Education is an essential key to freedom and equality and failure to defend and preserve this right is failure to serve all students in America.

As a civil right, education is a priority for all students and families. Of the 6,000,000 + students in public schools in California this year, the majority identify as Hispanic or Latino/a, making up about 54.2% of 2017-2018 enrollment. Following are white students at 23.6% enrollment and Black students at 5.6%. While students of color are the majority filling up classrooms, Black and Latino/a students have the highest dropout rates. In 2014-2015, 18.8% of Black students and 12.6% of Latino/a students dropped out of high school compared to 7.4% of their white counterparts. Diversity in public schools is praised, but often, the successes or lackthereof for our students of color are overlooked. While the dropout rates seem low, they are doubled for our Black and Brown students. Although students in public schools have access to same resources on campus, those resources may not be inclusive of all students. Tailored support for students can include encouraging students, especially students of color to participate in fly-in programs hosted at colleges, promoting affinity groups based on culture or hobbies and interests, and making an effort of having a racially diverse school staff. Reasons for dropping out can be attributed to low attendance, low grades, and lack of academic and emotional support.

While we have recognized the importance of education, we haven’t yet adequately served our students of color to help them through their academic journeys. We are able to get them to school, but we aren’t doing a job of keeping them there.

As for the Black and Latino/a students who are graduating with the rest of their peers, they are not as college-ready like their white and even Asian counterparts. In 2014-2015, 32.6% of Black and 34.6% of Latino/a seniors graduating from public high schools were considered UC/CSU ready, compared to 49.7% of white and 71.8% of Asian students.  It seems that the academic support in our public schools are not benefitting our Black and Latino/a students, meaning that it’s not equitable. While all students have access to what their schools provide, the schools are not meeting our students of color halfway. Many of these students are dealing with external adversities at home, struggling in classes, dealing with developmental disabilities that go unnoticed and more.

So are we as a community and a state serving our students of color adequately and equitably? No, we haven’t. While we have come a long way as a nation since Brown v. Board of Education, we still have a long way to go. We have to hold our schools and districts accountable for how our students are being served and educated. We have to play an active role in Black and Latino/a students’ education to show that we care, but also that we are making sure that they have a community they can depend throughout their academic journey. As community members, parents, counselors, mentors, and educators, we have to be willing to speak up for our students who are not able to do so or who do not have the language to advocate for the education they deserve and have been promised.

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Ashley Terry

Ashley Terry

Ashley Terry, raised in the East Bay Area, received her Bachelor's degree in Africana Studies from Barnard College of Columbia University in 2015. She currently works at her alma mater, The Bay School of San Francisco in college counseling, supporting students and parents through the college process. Through her work, she hopes to cultivate change within her students and through her written work.

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