Systemic racism in the education system — Observatory

On May 25, in Minneapolis, USA, George Floyd died at the hands of a white police officer, sparking protests around the world against racism in a movement called Black Lives Matter.

Although this movement has been around since 2013, it has gained new momentum due to recent events showing the strength of racism that still exists in the police system, government and society.

Among the most vital areas for addressing racism in society are schools, as schools can perpetuate racial inequality, so it is important to train educators on how to address this issue in the classroom.

Coincidentally, a month before the murder, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conducted a survey to examine racial bias among teachers. As the survey explains, schools are places where equality should be promoted and taught to students, but this is not always the case. Thus, the Association sought to determine whether educators have fewer explicit and implicit pro-white biases than the non-teaching community. The survey included the participation of 1.6 million people, including 68,930 teachers.

Jordan Starck, the study’s author, says schools are a ‘microcosm of society’, so racism can affect things like teacher hiring and student mixing in schools of different ethnicities.

AERA conducted a speed and accuracy test where participants separated white-skinned people with positive words from dark-skinned people with negative words. 77% of educators were found to have an implicit bias, while 77.1% of whites surveyed have this bias. Subsequently, the researchers found that 30.3% of teachers had explicit bias compared to 30.4% of professionals who are not educators.

The presence of these racial biases in schools influences the experience of students in their learning process, in the quality of education they receive and in the way teachers deal with them in the classroom.

Previous studies have shown that students who encountered racial bias were not only less likely to be placed in advanced or gifted classes but, on the contrary, they were the ones who received the most detentions and punishments, especially when their teachers were white people.

“Teacher bias levels correlate with student outcomes; the more biased teachers are, the worse student learning outcomes are,” Starck said. “Teachers view, assess and treat students differently based on their ethnicity, and biases play a central role in these disparities.”

Moreover, Starck emphasizes that having “good intentions” is not enough and that it is not his intention that teachers feel guilty. Yet such studies are needed to shed light on the need for other resources and support for dealing with racial bias.

Stark calls on school leaders and principals to support the professional development of teachers to challenge their biases and prevent them from affecting their students. Many school districts have initiated actions in this direction by offering training to teachers so that they are more aware of their implicit and explicit prejudices and learn to change them. Experts explained that this type of personal development and professional training where teachers are asked to examine themselves and act is not traditionally practiced.

There is also a need to facilitate conversations about this introspection and how racism manifests in institutional policies and processes. In addition, the students must be analyzed and the questions asked: what are their grades? Are they going to class? How is their self-discipline? Do they often stay out of school? Are there differences according to ethnic origin and gender?

On the other hand, Forbes Magazine believes that the best way to eradicate racism is to change education, starting with including characters of different ethnicities in history books. Also, add discussion of slavery to curricula and change the names of schools that have historical figures who traded slaves or had racist backgrounds.

Additionally, some studies show that teachers systematically dismiss black students over other ethnic groups. They are overrepresented in student “reform” schools, where they are excluded from mainstream institutions and exposed to drugs and drug traffickers.

They are also discriminated against because of their hair and may have fewer opportunities to enter and complete higher education. This results in an opportunity gap between blacks compared to whites and other ethnicities, alienating them and limiting their opportunities for professional growth.

While there is no easy way to eliminate systemic racism in the education sector, as in AERA’s research, Forbes recommends starting by educating teachers about their biases. It is also important to hire more black teachers to give them more representation; include more books by authors of different ethnicities to tell stories led by diverse protagonists, and seek positive actions in higher education that attract more students of all ethnicities.

The involvement of government, school leaders, teachers and the education community is also needed to bring about real change. As Jordan Starck said, “there is a need to advocate for broader social change, otherwise the same kinds of prejudices will be perpetuated.”

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