Minority Voices, Input and Participation being “Left Behind” in Public Education

wilieyStory by : Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues

African-Americans is not the “state of schools” in Houston, Dallas or points west, but what is the real state of education for Black and minority children period.

“The real hard truths are not being discussed,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. “This is the first generation that will be less educated that their parents and that should be a serious wake up call.”

Price, a longtime activist, said without some new intervention, African-American students are facing difficult times ahead. The results of falling further behind is a generation of Black youth could be looking up at others ethnic groups in permanent underclass status.

The Dallas Independent School District sits in the heart of a large, diverse and dynamic region with a metropolitan population of 6.5 million people in the 12 counties in North Central Texas. Dallas ISD comprises 384 square miles and encompasses the cities of Dallas, Cockrell Hill, Seagoville, Addison, Wilmer and parts of Carrollton, Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Farmers Branch, Garland, Grand Prairie, Highland Park, Hutchins, Lancaster and Mesquite.

The district is the second-largest public school district in the state, and the 14th-largest district in the nation and serves more than 157,000 students in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade, in 220 schools, employing nearly 20,000.

Of those students, 110,395 or 69.5-percent are Hispanic; 37,867 or 23.8-percent are African-American;  but only 7,367 or 4.6-percent are White.

“The numbers tell the story without question,” Price said. “Less than five-percent of the district students are White, yet Whites have control of the public education system in this city.”

The Board of Trustees has a total of nine members. Of those five are White; three Black; and one is Hispanic.

“This has a profound impact on district policy and how are children being educated,” Price said. “Dallas has a high teacher turnover rate and good experienced teachers are leaving the district.”

White kids are not in system, but this group of leaders are telling us what our kids need and determining the quality of education our children our children receive, he said.

Houston recently completed its state of the schools and while patting itself on the back for being on of the top urban districts in the nation, but it still has problems with children who cannot read and write well.

That has prompted Superintendent Terry Grier to start a program emphasizing literacy, reading books and is asking community to step up as volunteers to come to schools and read to children in schools and parents to commit to reading daily to children to boost reading and literacy in the district.

He even said the district is willing to provide books for kids to take home to encourage the practice.

“Literacy is such an important issue – such a crucial issue for our students – that we have to keep it front and center, no matter the challenges involved,” Grier said. “There is no other option. Literacy is a cornerstone issue for HISD and for Houston.”

Two priorities for the district are: getting every HISD student reading at or above grade level by the third grade and focusing on personalizing student learning.

The underbelly of Grier’s plan also includes closing schools in predominantly poorer Black  and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The superintendent has put five schools on the chopping block in order to save money and resources, rather than cut the administrative fat. Those campuses in jeopardy include Lamar Fleming Middle School, Dodson, Nathaniel Q Henderson and Jones High schools and  Port Houston Elementary.

They argue enrollment and economics are playing a large role in the decision – a contention parents and community leaders have rejected.

Houston Independent School District is the largest school district in Texas and seventh largest in the United States. Of its 282 schools, Hispanics have the greatest number of students with 61.9-percent; African-Americans make up 25.2-percent; but only 8.2-percent of the district is White. The district is listed at 80.4-percent economically disadvantaged and has children that speak over 106 languages.

The district has nine trustees; four White; three African-American; and two Hispanic members.

“Business communities are fine with the current status, but representation is not appropriate,” Price said. “The community does not understand that there is an agenda.We need a revolt when it comes to representation on school boards and the public education of our young people.”

Price said the only way to get change is for more Blacks to step up and run for school board and become more verbal and participate in the total process of developing education policy.

In conjunction with that, the Price added that soft voices speaking for the community on school boards and those are acting as puppeteers for business and other interests need to be removed from office and replaced.

“It’s time for people to wake up and look at what the real priorities are,” he said. “This situation has the potential to damage us for many generations to come.”

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