Here's How We Got Educating Black Kids Wrong Again in the 2010s

Dec 6, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Congratulations, America! You’ve once again managed to provide the shittiest public education for Black students and families. So as we close out this decade and enter a new year, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting some of these moments, policies and practices that have upheld your deep-rooted oppression!

Lock Them Up!

In 2016, we allowed what has to be the world’s most notorious ignoramus and renowned racist—Donald Trump—into the White House. His agenda was to undo everything President Obama did, including guidelines that protected students of color.

In 2014, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued the “Dear Colleague” letter as a reminder to elementary and secondary schools on laws prohibiting them from unfairly and harshly punishing students because of the color of their skin. This letter also included guidance on how to remedy discriminatory discipline.

Black students—specifically Black boys—were (and are) being suspended at significantly higher rates than White students with obvious effects on their academic achievement. So this was a step in the right direction. But for no good reason at all, Donald gave marching orders to one of his minions—U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos—that rolled back those guidelines.

So while we were once on a path to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and closing the achievement gap, Donald and Betsy stopped us dead in our tracks. At this rate, why waste time? Just send Black kids right to jail.

Privilege Trumped Progressivism

I’ve never watched that show called “The Masked Singer” but I think we should do a spin-off called “The Masked Progressive” where everyday liberals, politicians and community leaders are exposed for their fake advocacy and false promises to marginalized communities. 

Politicians have caught wind of Black people’s dwindling support and are rebranding themselves as progressives to win their votes. But deep down inside, they’re still self-serving politicians trying to protect their own interests and privilege.

We have 2020 presidential candidates like Cory Booker running on a progressive platform but flip-flopping on his school choice stance. And while he brags about still living in the hood he grew up in, I’m sure inconsistent advocacy doesn’t help the people living in his neighborhood—those who don’t have a clear pathway to Stanford and Yale like he did.

Elizabeth Warren is the perfect example of a politician who put her privilege over progressivism. After releasing her education plan in September of 2019, standing with unions in their fight to support traditional public schools and claiming to be a champion of public education, in November she got caught lying to parents about sending her kids to private school

In an attempt to save face with the public and the unions, weeks later she pretty much told parents if they don’t like your public school, go fix it. But hell, she didn’t do that—she took her kids out of a public school she felt wasn’t working and put them in private school. 

Does that sound progressive? Doesn’t that sound like the same school choice she’s trying to deny parents who can’t afford to pay an $18,000 annual tuition like she did

In 2016, the NAACP called for a charter moratorium. I found it interesting but was also disappointed by how they chose to come out of the closet on that issue considering they’ve been pretty much quiet about the state of education for Black people since the Civil Rights era.

While one of their recommendations is to improve the traditional system overall, they haven’t come out publicly with a plan. So while they were adding fuel to the “burn charter schools” bonfire and focusing their energies on Virginia’s governor to resign because he wore blackface, Black faces were still suffering in racist schools.

Despite calling Booker out and pushback on Warren and the NAACP, they still continue with their agendas to suppress parent choice and ignore their voice. And at the end of the day, Black people don’t need anymore skinfolk that ain’t kinfolk or politicians more interested in protecting the status quo speaking on our behalf.

My Child, My Choice...Right? 


Teachers unions, their paid politicians and organizational leaders don’t believe in giving parents choice or supporting their rights. That’s why they launched a full-blown assault on school choice in the 2010s which in my eyes, is an attack on Black families. 

The attacks really kicked off 2012 when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, using charter schools as a scapegoat for traditional school failures. Ever since then, unions around the country have been emboldened—striking at the drop of a hat and riding this narrative that charter schools are destroying the traditional public school system. 

For the record, if anything is being destroyed, it’s the futures of Black kids who are still stuck in failing schools governed by this traditional system that was never designed to help them succeed. And as an honorable mention, if traditional schools were doing their damn jobs, charter schools wouldn’t even exist.

Moving on to later in the decade. Around the 50th commemoration of Brown v. Board, people started blaming ongoing school segregation on charter schools with very little mention of the residual effects of Plessy v. Ferguson, redlining and current secession efforts led by White people who don’t want their kids sitting in classrooms with Black kids

As a result of these attacks, several cities and states have passed legislation putting a chokehold on school choice. Illinois abolished its state charter commission and California passed legislation giving districts more control over charter growth. Chicago recently enacted a charter moratorium and several other cities are considering following suit.

If you’ve been paying attention to my previous H+O’s, you know that I’m pro-great school, regardless of model. So not only do I believe these anti-choice pundits are wrong, I’m disappointed by people like Andre Perry whose latest assertion is the charter school fight isn’t Black peoples’ to fight. Because if we allow the walls to keep closing in on our choices without pushing back, we’ll end up squashed by this one-size-fits-all, failing system. And I bet this decade probably left the 46% of Black parents that support charter schools feeling a little confined.

You Is Black, You Is Dumb and You Is Untalented  

The last 10 years have screamed, “Hey Black kids, we don’t believe in you and you shouldn’t believe in yourselves!”

Exhibit A: the Opportunity Myth

In 2018, The National Teachers Project conducted a study that confirmed what many of us already knew—teachers were giving Black students coursework below their grade level simply because they didn’t believe they could achieve at a higher level

How are kids supposed to believe they can be somebody when teachers’ implicit and explicit biases and the belief gap tell them they can’t?

Then just in 2018 and 2019 alone, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and a few other cities were at the center of controversy for schemes involving changing students’ grades and academic records. 

The T.M. Landry College Preparatory School scandal is the most outrageous with allegations of physical and mental abuse towards students and forced, bogus lies on college applications that sent students to Ivy League schools thirsty to meet diversity quotas.

And all of these schools had majority Black student populations.

Look, I’m sure teachers and administrators feel an immense amount of pressure to ensure students are meeting academic standards and graduating from high school. But that’s no excuse for falsifying grades, records and passing students along to attend college unprepared.

Leave the B.S. in 2019

I made light of these situations in my opening but all jokes and snarky sarcasm aside, the state of public education and treatment of Black students is no laughing matter. Because while there has been some progression, these policies and practices embedded in and influenced by systemic racism and historic oppression that have left Black students lagging at the tail-end of the achievement gap.

Looking at the past and where we are now, I don’t have much faith in the “powers that be” to equalize public education for Black kids. In fact, I expect them to keep pretending like they’re doing the best they can to educate Black kids and acting like Black kids just can’t learn

My faith lies entirely in our communities. We’re tired. We’re catching wind of the B.S. and we’re slowly but surely fighting back. And because of that, we’ll turn things around for our kids.

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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