Access to equitable education can be a game-changer for Kentucky’s Black students
Our first day of conversations during Black Minds Matter week featured Dr. O.J. Oleka, executive director of the Association for Independent Kentucky Colleges & Universities, and Mandy McLaren, an education reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Prichard Committee President & CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey interviewed both about racial inequities in Kentucky’s education system.
Both Oleka and McLaren began their careers in the Teach for America program – Oleka taught middle school in St. Louis, and McLaren taught in New Orleans – and both have a unique perspective on the racial challenges students face that they carry with them in their current roles.
“I worked in a deeply segregated system in New Orleans and the majority of my students were Black,” said McLaren. “I try to bring as much of that experience to my reporting as I can. That was my lived experience as a teacher, and that is the lived experience of many students across the country now.”
Oleka said one of the most important factors of the student experience is having access to high-quality learning and educational opportunities.
“Access goes back to the idea that there are systems in our education structure that are working very well. Students with access to resources do better,” said Oleka. “For example, students whose parents who are lawyers will have access to know how to become an attorney. So many of our Black students just don’t have that access. Not enough of our Black students have access to other successful Black college graduates.”
Solutions to education inequities
Oleka says some systemic inequities can be broken down by eliminating what researchers call “correspondence bias.”
“Enrollment managers and admissions officers in higher education sometimes have biases about certain high schools and assume that students who graduate from those schools quite literally didn’t make the grade,” he said. “These students won’t get into as rigorous of colleges and universities because of where they went to school. It is a broad issue, but it’s something we can fix.”
Colleges of education, according to Oleka, can also do a better job of training future teachers to look past their biases because “students who are taught by educators who believe they will be successful, will have success.” The Prichard Committee recently made a statement calling for all teachers and school staff to take implicit bias and cultural competency training.
McLaren said students also need better access to history curriculum that has not been “whitewashed,” and districts must do a better job of providing quality curriculum and instruction.
“Students are not receiving true black history. You can’t underestimate the power of social media and the internet now. All of this information is at their fingertips and they are getting rightfully upset, wondering why they aren’t being taught more about civil rights history.”
McLaren is also hopeful about plans for a new youth re-engagement center being planned in West Louisville, which would serve as a “one-stop shop” with staff on-hand to support more than just educational and career needs. It would also focus on housing, transportation, foster care, food insecurity and mental health needs – providing the access that many Black students in Louisville simply do not have.
Oleka recently launched a coalition aiming to develop bipartisan policy to eliminate institutional racism within local and state government in Kentucky.
“Anti-racism is not a partisan idea, we’re all against it, so everybody from every political background ought to be involved,” said Oleka.
Upcoming Black Minds Matter Events:
- Wednesday’s episode of Innovation in Education, featuring Dr. Aaron Thompson of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, Dr. Soraya Matthews, Fayette County Public Schools, Dr. John Marshall, Jefferson County Public Schools, and Dr. Lynn Jennings from the Education Trust, Wednesday, June 24 at 3 p.m.
- A live conversation with Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Plucker has conducted researchon the low representation of African-American students in gifted and talented programs for Johns Hopkins University.
- A live conversation with Renee Shaw, Wednesday at 7 p.m. Shaw is the Public Affairs Managing Producer & Host for Kentucky Educational Television (KET).
- A conversation on implicit bias with Student Voice Team members, Thursday at 11 a.m.
- A live conversation with Donovan Pinner, founder of a campaign to educate minority voters, Thursday at 1 p.m.
- A live conversation with Louisville Urban League leaders Sadiqa Reynolds and Kish Price, Thursday at 4 p.m.
- A live conversation with Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Dr. Aaron Thompson at 10 a.m.
- Groundswell Gathering: Finding solutions on racial education equity in Kentucky, a Zoom meeting. Click here to register.(This will not be on Facebook Live).