From Myths to Facts: Race and Education

By Tammy Johnson Mar 28, 2008

“The myth: The president can make our schools better. It’s a myth that most citizens seem to believe. So do some candidates.” says Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli of the Weekly Standard, in their article, “The Education of John McCain.” But the real issue here is not whether McCain’s education plan will pass conservative muster, or even if any of the Presidential candidates have a real clue about how to reform public education. At a time when the country is experiencing a significant demographic shift that fills public schools primarily with Black and Latino, but also Native, Asian and Pacific Islander students, the real question before us is what are we going to do about a system fails them year after year? We have go where the stylized speeches and the ten point plans of Presidential candidates will not go: to the facts. There are many myths about the intellectual abilities of students of color, the capacity of their families and the accessibility of the system they are in that must be examined. One great example of data collection that engages communities of color beyond a dusty report on a shelf comes from UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA). Their annual Educational Opportunity Reports provides a clear assessment of California’s public schools. This year the reports are also available in Spanish, there are special African American and Latino editions and online interactive versions by state Senate and Assembly districts which are available as well. John Rogers, Co-Director of UCLA’s IDEA, has also written a very useful community guide to educational data systems which can be found here. When it comes to rooting out racial disparities, spotting trends that trap students in dead-end coursework, or discovering teaching practices that capture the imagination and raises grades, data collection is an essential tool for progress. Done right, such research allows us to be proactive, effective and ultimately clears a path for students of color to reach their full potential.