My unedited Op-Ed piece on cultural bias and politics

Facilitating learning

Facilitating learning

I am sure that I am slowly getting black-listed in my city, but oh well. My profession and my role as a mother demand that I speak up. Here’s hoping I can get myself positioned to actually make real meaningful change.

This piece (waiting for my personal editor to edit so I can send off), is a follow-up to this piece:

http://www.lowellsun.com/opinion/ci_28916236/cultural-competency-is-necessary-skill-and-policy-our

Taxation with representation: Unraveling cultural bias in schools from the top down

It is election time. Our neighborhoods are cluttered with placards of candidates’ faces and slogans of individuals running for a variety of positions.  Politics in Massachusetts can be confusing especially to someone who did not grow up here.  One key question that voting individuals should be asking themselves is “Am I being taxed without being represented?”  Being taxed without being represented in government is an idea that dates back to the beginning of our nation’s founding.  This sentiment can be extended to parents who have children in school districts that do not have school committees that visibly represent the people who live in the district and attend the public schools. Cultural bias in our schools is often perpetuated because our Superintendents and the individuals on our school committees do not represent the rich diversity of our cities.  In order for our schools (policies, curriculum, events, etc.) to be culturally competent the people who are elected to represent and lead our schools must visibly represent those who attend our schools.

The Commonwealth reports having 408 school districts with a total of 1,860 schools (1,154 elementary schools; 313 middle/junior high schools; and 393 secondary schools).  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) reports that in 2014-2015 there were 955,894 students enrolled in those schools.  Based on student enrollment, Massachusetts has eleven school districts that rank in the nation’s top 1,000 school districts.  From pre-kindergarten through high school we educate a large portion of America’s students.  Nine of those districts will hold elections for open positions on November 3, 2015.  School committee elections in this state matter a lot.  Of our ten largest schools districts Boston and Springfield, which are the two largest school districts do not have any seats up for election this year.  Worcester, the third largest school district has six seats up for election.  Brockton, the fourth largest school district has seven seats up for election.  At fifth, sixth and seventh largest Lynn, Lowell, and Lawrence respectively each have six seats up for election.  The eight largest school district, New Bedford has three open seats, Newton at number nine has eight seats, and Fall River, the tenth largest school district has six open seats.

Out of the eight districts with seats up for election the five most diverse cities (by U.S. Census numbers) are Worcester, Brockton, Lynn, Lowell, and Lawrence.  ESE 2014-15 report on enrollment by race (just the highlights on the highest numbers of non-Caucasian students) shows that Worcester has 39.6% Hispanic student enrollment. Brockton is 55.2% African American, Lynn is 56.4% Hispanic, Lowell is 30.1% Hispanic and 29.4% Asian, and Lawrence has 91.3% Hispanic student enrollment.  We know that Census numbers and reports by social identity are incredibly useful but not 100% accurate as not everyone fills out the forms. However, the numbers are a good indication of who is attending our schools.  Massachusetts is not lacking in racial and ethnic diversity. The Commonwealth is 51.5% percent female.  Because sexual orientation is not assessed by the U.S. Census, the more difficult social identity statistic to calculate is that of the LGBT population.  Based on data for same-sex households, Massachusetts reports approximately 20,000 same-sex households and an adult LGBT population of 4.4% (which is 7th in the nation).  All those numbers to illustrate that Massachusetts is diverse on paper and if you live here you know that in reality we are more diverse than that.

In terms of race and ethnicity most of the school committees in the Commonwealth appear to be unbalanced, especially in proportion to the number of students of color served in those districts. Examples of that include the city of Lowell where students of color make up approximately 69.3% of enrollment in the district’s schools but the school committee is composed of seven Caucasians.  This was highlighted in the recent incident where a student was racially bullied.  Lawrence has a school board that is ethnically representative of its city.  Lynn has a public school website that is culturally competent in that it can be translated into other languages for ease of use.  The other diverse cities with open seats do not appear to have school committees that are representative of the diversity they serve.

Why does it matter that our school committees be representative of the student population being served?  One, because we are a nation founded on the ideal of representation.  Two, because committees help to guide policies and curriculum and hire Superintendents.  Three, because policies and curriculum and Superintendents need to be culturally competent and responsive to the needs of students and families of color who are in the majority.  Yes, Caucasians can be culturally competent and respond to the needs of students and families of color. However, in our own state and throughout the nation we have seen instances in which predominantly Caucasian school boards have not been responsive to students of color and their families.  Public schools and school committees should follow the lead of colleges and universities.  Hiring only takes place when a diverse pool of candidates has been achieved.  Diversity is not just written on a piece of paper for the accrediting bodies to see cultural competence is an active practice.

I hope the state and cities consider sponsoring forums to educate more people of color on how to run for elected offices.  I hope more candidates of color step up to be candidates.  I hope our school boards become as diverse as the students they serve.  This November vote to make our school committees look like the students and families they serve.  This November vote for cultural competency and taxation with representation!

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