Black and Latino Parents: Our Kids Aren't Dumb—They're Bored

Some kids of color aren't being challenged in school, and their classrooms are underfunded.
(Photo: Christopher Futcher/Getty Images)
Apr 15, 2016· 2 MIN READ
A veteran journalist and former White House correspondent for Politico, Joseph Williams is a freelance writer, blogger, and essayist in Washington, D.C.

In a move that made headlines, the largely white movement to have students opt out of standardized tests is openly recruiting poor and minority parents to join its ranks. But a new national survey reveals why those parents have been absent from the fight: They’re more worried that their kids aren’t getting a quality education.

The poll of black and Latino parents, conducted by a coalition of civil rights groups led by the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights and its Education Fund, found that these parents want schools with a strong, rigorous curriculum, teachers who challenge kids to master it, and enough funding to make it a reality for their children.

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But most of the African American parents and a sizable percentage of the Latino parents surveyed believe the schools in their communities don’t have the same access to resources—from quality teachers to funds for upgrading or replacing facilities—as schools in wealthier districts. As a result, they believe the children in their communities are getting an inferior, even substandard education.

In a conference call with reporters, Wade Henderson, LCCHR president, said his organization and other civil rights groups, including La Raza, commissioned the poll to trigger a conversation “about education policy, one that’s inclusive of communities of color.” He noted that the poll is the first of its kind since passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, President Obama’s signature education policy legislation.

“I know firsthand how elusive the effort to provide quality education has been, particularly for communities of color,” Henderson told reporters. “Concentrated poverty, race and systemic discrimination, sometimes unconscious bias, come into play and affect the allocation of resources, both financial and personnel.”

Education policy researchers contend that while blacks and Latinos for the first time make up a majority of public school students, their voices aren’t heard in the debates over changes and reforms in public education. The survey presented a range of questions to a sample population of 400 black and 400 Latino parents, with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points for each group.

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Liz King, LCCHR’s senior policy analyst and the organization’s director of education policy, said at a press conference that the survey provides “a fuller picture” of how members of “the new majority” see public education in the U.S.

“We needed to know more of the beliefs and experiences of these stakeholders and their children,” said King, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington earlier this week. “There is a long and powerful history among black and Latino communities” on education as critical to success, yet “despite this, they’re largely underrepresented in any debates” about policy.

“We wanted to hear from this community—this new education majority—to help amplify their voices,” she said.

The results, while not entirely surprising, were eye-opening nonetheless.

Among black parents, 66 percent believe their children get a worse education compared with whites, and 45 percent of Latino parents agreed. But while 47 percent of Latino parents blamed inadequate and unequal funding and just 20 percent blamed racism, black parents blamed a range of factors.

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Thirty-four percent of black parents said unequal funding is the biggest problem, but they also pointed to bad teachers and racism in equal measure—32 percent for both categories.

Perhaps the most intriguing result: Nearly all the black and Latino parents in the survey don’t think their kids are being pushed hard enough in the classroom. Asked if their children are being challenged in school to help them later in life, 90 percent of black parents said no, and 84 percent of Latino parents agreed.

Sonja Santelises, vice president of K–12 policy and practice at Education Trust and a former public schoolteacher, said during a panel discussion that the survey underscores a “disconnect” in how ed reform advocates engage in communities of color.

Parents want school administrators who understand the disparity, as well as a rigorous course of study and engaged teachers “who are invested in the long-term viability” of children, said Santelises. Moms and dads are open to conversations about standardized testing, changes in teacher assessments, or the Common Core curriculum—but only after the basics of a quality education have been established.