The Unnatural Selection Of School Selection For Black Children

As a person in the field of education, people often ask me to recommend a “good school” for their child/children, specifically Black children. I’ve spent a lot of time in a few school districts in the south, conducting broad studies, meeting with students and interviewing parents. And from what I’ve seen, parents are heavily dependent upon school grades to determine the quality of education offered.

This is problematic for Black parents for various reasons, particularly because what we know is that school grading is much more an indicator of socioeconomic status and race, than quality of education. Additionally, much of what we know about school characteristics that facilitate success for Black students is not considered. We know the positive academic identity formation is critical for Black students, moreover students of color, at various socioeconomic levels. Black students benefit from having Black teachers, challenging coursework, representation in coursework, even certain forms of communication, like “call and response.”

Imagine forming a positive association with school and schooling with no representation among your teachers or administration, exclusion from all nonacademic parts of school life, homecoming, prom, senior skip day etc. (everything except sports of course), and a misrepresentation of history in texts, coupled with complete exclusion in literature.

Now couple that marginalization with over policing, as Black girls and boys in these schools face the most extreme discipline for any infraction. Black girls are more likely than any other group to be cited for a dress code violation, largely based on body type, and Black boys make up 25 percent of suspensions, but only 8 percent of the student body (nationally).

Black students are being pushed out of schools, but the joining of these two sets of factors may result in predominantly white “A” schools being particularly dangerous place for them. In many cases, students also report overt racism in the form of comments, acts or symbolism from peers, parents, teachers and administration.

Given these considerations, I generally return the question: can you name some good schools? With two questions: how would you define success for your child? e.g. what is good? And 2. Can you protect your child?

For some, access to academic tools and technology may be the prevailing most important factor. I would caution that for this group, it’s important to look at academic outcomes specifically for Black students, often you’ll find that only some students are reporting positive outcomes – even though the school is highly rated by the district or state. If you are low-income, it is equally important to specifically research rates of success for the free and reduced lunch population.

For others may well-rounded experience, regardless of resources, may be the most ideal. I can only tell you what researchers, educators, advocates have found to be important factors in school selection for Black children.

  1. Diverse teachers and administration
  2. Diverse student body
  3. Culturally competent discipline policy
  4. Re-imagined/inclusive courses
  5. Diverse (in representation and thought) textbooks and library

I have seen first-hand that our children do not just bounce back from the routine racial subjugation, humiliation, violence that they experience in some “A” schools. Protecting your child in this case may mean a daily presence in the school.

However, for many the only other options are schools, largely filled with good educators, but inadequate resources meaning counselors, psychologists, wrap around services and teachers. As a result, class time can be affected because the teacher has to play multiple hats at once. In this instance protecting your child may mean educational supports after school and on weekends, galvanizing a committed (likely privileged) group of parents to serve as fundraising support and volunteers , and consistent representation at school board meetings to advocate for the school. There have been instances in some cities, where committed parents turned a supposedly “failing” predominantly Black school into such a success white parents were now vying for av a spot for their child.

Ultimately, I want Black parents to know those school grades are deceiving. Ignore them, think about what your child/children need and dig deeper. If the only Black boys that haven’t been suspended are on the basketball team, that is likely not a place where your Black son will thrive. And the pattern of negative academic identity formation will continue , α resistance to racism and abuse will manifest as a resistance to schooling.

There are some unicorn schools that strike the perfect balance, but it’s likely that either way, it’ll be a lot of work. Black parents face impossible choices.