One of the most weathered claims about black parents is that we are not as involved as we need to be for the educational success of our children. At best we are said to be insufficiently prepared for the tasks of parenting. At worst, less valuing of education in comparison to other racial groups.
We have always known these claims are baseless, but now we have more evidence that our detractors are simply out of pocket.
A new poll from my colleagues at Education Post confirms what should be obvious: black parents care about the education our kids receive; we are the most hopeful about what they can achieve; and we are among the biggest supporters of public schools.
It might surprise some readers of the poll that more than any group, black parents put a high premium on parental responsibility, and we are the most willing to say we can do more as parents to improve education.
We are also most likely to say teachers need support and resources to be effective in the classroom. When we find a school for our children, we are the most likely to express satisfaction with it.
Taken together, this all means to me that black parents should be embraced as the single most supportive group in public education, not derided as the problem dragging it down. When there are conversations about improving schools we shouldn’t hear “you can’t expect schools to solve all of societies ills.” Our children are not ills, and we are not a problem that needs solving. We simply want our children to learn and succeed in life.
The natural thing to do is to read this poll like a Rorschach, taking from it whatever conveniently supports some political position. I warn against that inclination. The nuances make it impossible for any “side” of the education debate to claim black parents’ support without qualifications.
Education bureaucrats and their workers shouldn’t hear only what they want to hear from this polling. They should listen without prejudice. They should get the message that black parents support public education, and we are hopeful, but we have some expectations too.
In addition to being supporters, the poll results say that black parents are more likely to expect state officials and local school districts to intervene when there are “chronically low-performing schools,” and we want there to be higher standards and more challenging curriculum for our kids.
School reformers will obviously appreciate the fact that black parents want teachers and principals to be held accountable for student achievement. But those same reformers should hear these parents’ call for “a stronger focus on social and emotional development in addition to core academic subjects like math, science, and reading.”
Teachers and their unions should take comfort in the fact that black parents want their teachers to be respected, and at the same time, we greatly prioritize “removing ineffective teachers.” Further, black parents are very supportive of charter schools, something that teachers unions vigorously oppose in every state.
State leaders should be mindful that even though black parents are more likely to say college is right for every child, we also support vocational education as an option for those who want pathways into careers after high school.
On that note about college, while 63 percent of white parents strongly believe college is the right path for their own children—compared to 78 percent of black parents—fewer of them think it is right for all kids. By contrast, 51 percent of black parents parents say it is important for all kids to go to college, compared to 34 percent of whites.
No doubt we value education.
What all of this means to me is that there is a gulf between the aspirations of black families and the outcomes of the schools that serve their children. Our parents are partners, not problems. And, we have a lot of work ahead of us to make public education worthy of all this hope, and accountable to our black expectations.