Fancy Education Luncheons Aren’t Going to Fix the Schools in My Neighborhood

Sep 21, 2017 12:00:00 AM

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The other day I had the honor of attending a luncheon and panel discussion about our failure to provide equitable schooling here in Illinois. It was an impressive presentation. R. Jovita Baber, Ph.D., from the nonprofit IFF, shared findings from a new study, Raising Quality, Promoting Equity: An Analysis of Location, Performance, and Investment in Illinois Public Schools, showing that:
  • Better performing schools are needed throughout the state—not just in urban areas, but in suburban and rural towns too.
  • The state’s public education system fails to fulfill a basic function of public education: equalizing opportunity.
  • A return on investment can be calculated for each school district to see how well funding supports math and reading proficiency.
  I even got to hear from WBEZ’s Kate Grossman, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, Illinois State Senator Jason Barickman, and Elgin Public Schools CEO Tony Sanders, who had a lively discussion about school funding, charter schools, college readiness…you name it. But honestly, all I heard at that point was, “Womp-womp, womp-womp, womp, womp…” Don’t get me wrong. The research was thorough and well-presented. It was valuable to hear straight from folks who actually have a seat at the table where these decisions are made. But I feel like we’ve heard it all before. I’m not a lawmaker or a statistician. Nor do I have the first clue on how to balance a state budget. But, [pullquote position="right"]it doesn’t take those levels of education or experience to see that academic failures exist[/pullquote] and mainly impact low-income, high-need communities because of inequitable funding and divestment. So now that we under- (and over-) stand what the issues are, the conversation needs to shift to how we’re going to resolve them—because I’m not completely confident that this new state budget is the answer.

Look at Who’s Missing

Also, as a person of color who’s from a low-income community, I always have mixed emotions while in a room full of people who, nine times out of ten, come from an entirely different background but are having conversations and making decisions on our behalf. I don’t doubt anyone’s intentions to change the dynamics of education, but it seems a bit superficial or misguided when the people who are most impacted by the inequities aren’t in the room to voice their needs and concerns, to provide recommendations or even share their experiences. So, I appreciate IFF’s new study and even their efforts to relay their findings to the community. I’m just kind of over having the same conversation. I grew up in and live in a community deeply affected by inequitable education. [pullquote position="left"]I see the results of it day in and day out—students who feel hopeless and limited in their options[/pullquote]. It’s heartbreaking, and most importantly, completely unfair. If we want to improve the quality of education and make it more equitable, we have to stop talking about it and be about it. We have to start having more solutions-oriented conversations and actually put plans into action! And…we must include those who are most affected by this inequitable system. Invite them in on the conversation, the strategizing and the action! Now that’s a luncheon I’d like to attend.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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