Student Town Hall in Newark Shines Light on School Inequities

The NAEP results are in. Often referred to as the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests American schoolchildren in fourth, eighth, and 12th grades in various subjects. Last year, NAEP tested the math and reading skills of fourth and eighth graders.

The results aren’t pretty: Fourth graders have made no gains in math or reading, and eighth graders improved only slightly in reading but not in math, leading many news outlets to report flat scores.

The Dream of Education

No one seems surprised. A recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights describes America’s schools as “profoundly unequal.” When relatively few schools provide a robust, 21st-century education, what else can we expect?

The “I Have A Dream” Foundation (IHDF), a nonprofit that comprehensively supports entire classrooms of children—sometimes entire schools—through college, recently held a town hall with students that examined inequality in schools.

Held in conjunction with SHE Wins and All Stars Project Inc., which also hosted the meeting in downtown Newark, the conversation was moderated by local DJ and radio host Marcy DePina.

“It was such an insightful conversation and so  critical that we listen to our students and give them agency in the effort to improve our education system,” DePina told me in an email. “It was particularly timely to discuss gun violence in our schools because black and brown students in urban areas face a whole other set of issues regarding their safety.”

The discussion focused on education equity and school choice. Students from middle school, high school, and college representing public, private, and charter schools participated.

“The students discussed the differences in their educational experiences and resources, and weighed what an ideal educational experience would look like,” according to an IHDF statement.

“Despite the different schools that we may attend, we all have the same problems within our school systems,” Delvinayah Williams, a 12th grader from “I Have A Dream” FoundationNew Jersey, is quoted as saying in the IHDF statement. “Education equity, to me, means that no school should be lacking the proper tools to give their students the education that they deserve.”

Real Change Is Elusive

(Courtesy of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation)

The NAEP results reflect the political indifference to effecting real change in schools—especially those in low-income communities of color. A former New York City Schools Chancellor recently wrote in the New York Times that the system “seems unable to stop itself from extending privileges to the privileged.” Although he was talking about higher education, K-12 is the path that leads there.

“We chose this topic of discussion because solving it is so critical to our nation’s future,” Eugena Oh, president and CEO of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, is quoted in the statement.

“In the 64 years since Brown v. Board of Ed. and 37 years since our founding, our country has failed to create more equitable educational opportunities for our children. We are proud to have hosted this event with our New Jersey affiliate in Newark, where this issue has been at the forefront of public conversation, and to be elevating the voices of young people on issues in society that are directly impacting them. We truly believe that today’s students are the leaders of a more equitable future.”

To hear the full conversation, tune into DePina’s radio show, #FORSA! here.

For more about the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, visit its website.