• Sat. May 21st, 2022

KS Commission on Racial Equity ignores education discrimination

ByChad J. Johnson

Apr 11, 2022

How’s that for hypocrisy? Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s Final Report Commission on Racial Equity and Justice conveniently ignores what might be the state’s most glaring example of racial inequality: discrimination in education based on race and income.

Students of color and those from low-income families are two to three years behind in learning, and the gaps are widening. This social justice issue is no secret to anyone with access to student achievement data, and since both Commission co-chairs are educators, it is no accident that it is overlooked.

Kelly named Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of the Topeka School District, and Dr. Shannon Portillo, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, to co-chair the Commission. Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis was also appointed to the Commission. It is hard to imagine other members of the Commission ignoring racial discrimination in education if these educators brought it to their attention.

Their report cites statistics on income disparities for people of color and blithely attributes it to “lower rates of enrollment in and completion of post-secondary degree programs.” The only justification offered for declining enrollment has to do with money, as graduating students of color have much higher levels of student debt. But maybe, just maybe, the fact that most black and Hispanic high school students are below grade level has something to do with them not getting a post-secondary education. And perhaps the fact that this is a systemic and generational problem explains why their parents are less able to afford college and vocational training.

The 2021 state assessment results show white students are two to three times more likely to be on track for college and careers, and high school grades are worse. On the ACT, only 6% of black graduates were college-ready in English, reading, math, and science, compared to 25% of white students. These deplorable results do not surprise educators; after all, the national education progress assessment shows Black 4and-Kansas students are 2.6 years behind white students.

So why wouldn’t Governor Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity tackle the blatant educational discrimination in Kansas’ public school system? Quite simply, it means admitting that a problem exists and that education officials will not follow state laws designed to close achievement gaps. And the first commandment of Kansas politics is “thou shalt not criticize the public education system.” The education system offers plenty of votes to those who do what it wants and to those who don’t feel their anger.

A state audit examining at-risk funding said “most at-risk spending was used for teachers and programs for all students and did not appear to be targeted specifically at at-risk students as required. state law”. Instead of taking corrective action, State Board of Education President Kath Busch published a comment in the Kansas City Star that basically said, “Shut up, go away, we know what we’re doing.” .

Another law requires local school boards to conduct annual needs assessments of each school to identify barriers to learning and take corrective budget action. But The Sentinel examination of the 25 largest districts via requests from Open Records showed that only two had made the visits and that the levels of success they reported were grossly inaccurate. None of the 25 did what the law wanted.

The only recommendations the Commission’s report addresses for success are things like hiring more teachers of color, making it easier for minorities to become teachers, and giving more money to districts with students in need. The latter should read, “The Legislature has provided over $5 billion in additional funding at risk over the years, so follow that damn law and use it as intended.”

Solving discrimination in education starts with letting nothing take precedence over school improvement. There are excellent, dedicated educators in the system who can do the job. But administrators and school board members must stop putting the system and the adults who work in it ahead of the academic needs of students.

Oh, and administrators and everyone else needs to be honest about the serious student achievement problem in Kansas.

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