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Would Black Students Thrive With The Same Focus California Gives English Learners?

Let’s talk about black education with Dr. Margaret Fortune

by Dr. Margaret Fortune
President, CEO of Fortune School of Education

In a state known for its development, you might find it shocking that black Californians live by the mandate that nothing in particular can be done to black children in our public schools as a matter of law. This is true despite the fact that, according to the California Department of Education, 67 percent of black students do not read or write at grade level.

In mathematics, nearly 80 percent of black children do not perform in grade level and 86 percent below grade level in science. This means that black Californians are not ready to participate in the STEM economy in which our state has been the center of innovation in the world.

Californians are notorious for our erroneous values. If you go to a restaurant in California, you can’t get a plastic pacifier because a fish in the ocean might choke on it. But if you are a black child in California, where Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature and the governor’s office, the state will not protect you from receiving an inferior education, despite the evidence pointing to the fact that the vast majority of black children in particular are failed by schools Government in the Golden State.

In 2020, the same year Californians thronged the streets chanting “Black lives matter,” a majority of California voters went to the polls to defeat a ballot initiative that would have cleared the way for the state to provide targeted support to black public school children. By repealing the 25-year-old state ban on considering an individual’s race in public education.

However, there are some insiders of Democratic politics who remain determined to bring about positive change. The California Democratic Party’s Black Caucus proposed a set of educational bylaw amendments to the party’s platform and held a series of hearings calling on Democrats to call specifically to close achievement gaps and address inequality in black student funding as the party does for others. Student groups. Black students make up 5 percent of the 6 million children in California public schools. And while the state rightly provides additional funding, educational support, and school accountability for some high-needs students, 80,000 black youths are ineligible for supplemental funding because they are not low-income, English-language learners, or foster youth.

Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond recently appointed me to the Black Student Achievement Task Force. In these conversations, thought leaders about black education openly ask the question, Should all of our black students qualify for additional support? Is it true that 69 percent of black students who graduate from high school are ineligible even to apply to a public college, such as the University of California or California State University?

One of the goals of the Superintendent’s Black Student Achievement Working Group is to design a legislative package that addresses the achievement of black students in California public schools. It’s time to take back the stock bill that Secretary of State Shirley Webber introduced in 2018 when she was a member of the California legislature. Although AB 2635 (Weber) did not specifically identify black students, they were eligible for additional funding based on standardized test scores in Math and English Language Arts. “Now is the time to reform inequality in education and direct resources to students in need,” Weber said at the time.

In addition, the California English Language Learner Roadmap, adopted by the state board of education in 2017, is a model for developing a political vision for black students. What is needed for black children is a comprehensive and systematic approach such as the state roadmap for English language learners which states that “English language learners are a shared responsibility of all teachers and that all levels of the education system have a role to play in ensuring the access and achievement of the more than 1.3 million English language learners studying in California schools. I agree, and the same goes for over 300,000 black kids as well.

California must apply the same comprehensive and robust set of laws, regulations, and funding that it provides for learners of English to its black students. If that happens, the outcome will be better for black children in the state.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Margaret Fortune is President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine public charter schools K-12 with over 2,300 students focused on bridging the black achievement gap by preparing students for college. She is a state delegate to the California Democratic Party (CDP) Central Committee where she is also an elected member of the CDP Black Caucus Executive Board. Fortune is the treasurer of the National Action Network (NAN) Sacramento and an education advisor to two California governors. Graduated from University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.


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