The global COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a storm of challenges in policy and practice for public education; it also has fomented political and racial divisions in parent communities that threaten long-standing efforts to create welcoming and affirming schools for all students. We are seeing an upset in the ordering of American public schooling and a weakening of the ties between parents to each other, and of home to school.
For families with resources, the past 20 months have been an unrelenting vexation that required increases in time and money spent to support the daily academic progress and mental health of their children.
For under-resourced parents, the pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities inherent in education, including lack of access to essential learning tools like broadband internet, computers, transportation, and supplemental learning opportunities.
Our analysis: We are losing ground in the battle for a fair society that works equally well for everyone.
As is always the case during times good and bad, our students who need the strongest supports and most effective classroom instruction are suffering the most in terms of losses to their opportunity to learn, their social-emotional development, and ultimately, their future prospects.
With stakes so high for children, this is the worst time for adults to divide themselves needlessly into counterproductive tribes, but that is exactly what is happening, as conservatives jockey for political advantage and progressives play defense.
At brightbeam, we always refer back to Frederick Douglass’ dictum that power concedes nothing without a demand, and that demand must come from us—the parents, teachers, family and community members who believe that there will be no adult peace until there is child justice.
Throughout this year, we have continued to support these voices, offering them the research, tools and platforms needed for their demands to reach the decision-makers who can change the material circumstances of children and families.
This starts by being fair brokers of information. When critical race theory emerged as a school board bogeyman last spring, we quickly debunked the talking points and provided a clear-eyed take for activists that has to date been read by more than 70,000 people. We explain the basics of important concepts like standardized testing and IEPs, and provide easy-to-use data tools like Why Proficiency Matters to arm community members with the damning facts about a system that routinely fails so many children.
We work with strong messengers to tell their stories and turn that good information into actionable demands. We help them hone their message and use their personal influence to change hearts and minds and create change. Who better to make the case for bringing a critical race lens to classroom practice than an experienced teacher? Who better to show why we need more and better options for learning than an exceptional student? Who better to challenge the pushback to anti-racism than the founder of an organization dedicated to building a pipeline of Black educators?
Finally, we provide the tools for these words to lead to action. On our Voice to Action site, we work with activists to develop compelling petitions that target decision-makers and recruit new voices to the cause.
And these demands lead to real impact. We partnered with more than 50 leading education organizations to demand the Biden administration prioritize teacher diversity, and the department responded by naming a “diverse educator workforce” as one of its top priorities for its discretionary grant program. We worked with Oakland activist Dirk Tillotson—who was tragically murdered last month—to demand internet access for children forced to learn at home during the pandemic. Not only did this activism convince Comcast to change its policies nationally, but President Biden just signed into law $65 billion to increase broadband access, a huge victory of which brightbeam is proud to have been a part.
If this is the kind of work you’d like to see more of, then we welcome you to support us through a donation this Giving Tuesday, or as a part of your end-of-year giving. If you’d like to show your support by adding your voice to our network of education activists, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The challenges ahead are formidable, but so is our collective will on behalf of children. Let us not shrink back, but move forward to build justice for all our children.
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of
brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...