“We must learn the lessons of history and acknowledge the profound damage caused by racial discrimination.”
– Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination we bring you a personal reflection on educational equity from Zeno’s Kate Sedney-Read, Community Engagement Specialist.
I went to a Seattle elementary school where 74% of 4th grade students met math standards (about 10% higher than the overall district level when I was in elementary school) and over 95% met reading standards (20% above district level). Almost 70% of the students were white, and the median household income of the surrounding neighborhood was over $100,000. This was followed by middle school and high school in areas with much less economic privilege which generally saw lower levels of academic achievement. However, because of the early advantages I received, I was able to participate in specific academically rigorous programs at those schools that left me well prepared to pursue higher education.
What if I had lived in a different neighborhood, gone to a different elementary school? Would I have ended up in the same place I am today?
My success in school was directly influenced by the privileges I had growing up in a middle class white family, attending schools or participating in programs within schools mostly with people who shared those privileges. Unfortunately, these educational advantages that benefited me due to my race and class identities are not equally accessible to everyone across our city. As a result of historical discriminatory housing, hiring and other practices, as well as slow responses to national mandates to desegregate public schools and other institutions following Civil Rights era legislation and court decisions, schools and their surrounding neighborhoods in the Seattle area remain largely divided by race and income level. Because schools depend on a combination of public funding and community fund raising from PTAs and related groups, this creates a situation in which schools have vastly different resources available to support their students.
In order to fully address achievement gaps in math and other academic areas, we must find a way to create a balance of resources across our school system that guarantees every student the same opportunity to succeed. This means not only an equal distribution of public resources, but an equitable one. We must acknowledge the reality that some schools are more in need of these resources than others and work to correct the imbalances that have persisted in our education system for far too long. Success in academics, work, and life should not be restricted to select groups in our city. Everyone deserves the resources and opportunity to reach their full potential.
If you are interested in learning more about the influence of race on our city’s history and current events, check out these great resources:
- City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative: http://www.seattle.gov/rsji
- Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project: http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/
- Race: Power of an Illusion (documentary and online resources): http://www.pbs.org/race/000_General/000_00-Home.htm