• By Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2007
Previous IDRA Newsletter articles have described IDRA’s work in Texas creating cross-sector and cross-race leadership to improve access, excellence and equity in education. As background, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education more than 50 years ago that sending children to separate schools purely on the basis of race was unconstitutional. Seven years prior, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit ruled in Mendez vs. Westminster and the California Board of Education that Mexican American children could not be denied access to public school or a quality education because they were Mexican American.
While these two decisions, among others, transformed the nature of U.S. public education, the objectives of these rulings have not been fully met. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, 40 percent of Black students attend schools that are 90 percent Black. This is up from 3 percent in 1988. In nine out of 10 of these schools, the majority of children are poor.
Latino children are the most segregated and attend the poorest schools. They receive the poorest preparation by the least trained teachers and have little access to rigorous curriculum that would prepare them for college.
In addition, “75 percent of the 4.5 million students who speak a language other than English have a seat in the classroom but are left out of the class because of English-only policies that are concerned with politics instead of learning” (Robledo Montecel, 2003).
Clearly, the promise of Brown and Mendez is not yet met. And the current anti-immigrant environment certainly threatens the promise even further.
It is critical and timely that African American and Latino communities come together in fostering lasting and meaningful coalitions that can help fulfill the promise of these two cases for all children in this nation and particularly for African American and Latino learners.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that we are “inextricably linked” in a web of mutuality. And Cesar Chavez emphasized that the end result of education must surely be service to community, not only for their sake but for our collective good.
Blueprint Dialogues in Communities
To this end, with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, IDRA has implemented three “Blueprints for Action” dialogues in Texas, and recently two more in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Little Rock, Arkansas, with plans to expand to other states. The dialogues use a cross-sector multi-racial approach for gathering participants, educators, parents, business and community representatives engaged in a roundtable discussions focusing on actions to address key education issues in their communities, including equitable funding, ensuring graduation for all, quality schooling and access to higher education.
The groups create “blueprints” for action, based on these questions:
- What are the challenges to access and success for all students?
- What resources, strengths and assets can be tapped to create local blueprints for action that will result in access and success?
- What opportunities can be seized upon to accomplish this goal?
- What local actions are needed to fulfill the promise of Mendez and Brown?
Hearing Student Voices
The dialogues held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, brought in a critical component that is often overlooked in education: the importance of student voices. Prior to the dialogues and with assistance from IDRA and Critical Exposure, local students learned about the landmark cases and began to take pictures of their realities within schools, capturing in their words and through their eyes whether or not the promises of Brown and Mendez were being fulfilled in their districts.
These powerful images became part of a gallery to be appreciated by the entire community before the dialogues began. Participants had an opportunity to meet and hear from the students and consider these pictures as a powerful reminder of what remains to be done. The images and stories became a critical component in setting the stage throughout the next day’s dialogue planning.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, IDRA staff met with African American, Latino and Asian students representing three public school districts. Students participated in an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) relative to the fulfillment of the promises of Mendez and Brown in their communities. Working in teams, students identified eight key issues. Students presented these to roundtable participations at an evening reception of community members and school leaders, and issued a call to action. (The article by student Brandon Love in the April issue of the IDRA Newsletter was a product of this interaction.)
IDRA continues to foster new or strengthened alliances among and between groups with local leaders committed to continuing this work through sustained dialogues and action. Toolkits for taking local action are provided as follow-up to the Blueprint Dialogues, and the IDRA web site is poised to leverage the meetings at state and national levels.
Important insights are emerging of national significance from the Blueprint Dialogues.
- In terms of process, communities of color must have opportunities and support at the local level to voice concerns regarding access to education. People in communities yearn to communicate with one another across groups, but often lack opportunities or a process to do so in ways that result in collective and focused action. Facilitated interaction can yield greater interconnectedness, build on assets, strengthen will for effective action and focus on results.
- In terms of context, valuing and engaging students and communities are essential elements for school success. Students and community are where great reservoirs of strength and insight can be found. Each community needs information about its local schools in order to hold schools accountable for fulfilling the promises of Mendez and Brown. While complexity and diversity within and among groups pose challenges, these serve as launch points for building trust and taking collective action on behalf of all children.
- In terms of issues, the dialogues underscore that accountability in education is good and must be shared and accomplished through multiple measures that do not hurt kids. Coalition building of diverse sectors working toward a shared vision of excellence, access and success for all children must span across disciplines and sectors.
Partnering with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, IDRA is drawing upon prior work of a National Consultative Group of key leaders from educational and civil rights organizations that was convened in 2005. To bring the work to national scale, IDRA is exploring possibilities to foster a national shared vision and a common discourse for building cross-sector and multicultural alliances as advocates in education.
Presentations at the National Conference of Public Education Network in Washington, D.C., in December gave yet another opportunity to meet with national leaders and explore the following key questions:
- What are the most strategic ways to advance a national scale-up of the Brown and Mendez community action dialogues?
- What are the next steps and the supports needed for a national scale-up effort?
- How can we seize the potential to work collaboratively for the greatest national impact?
As a resource for communities, IDRA has developed A Community Action Guide – Seven Actions to Fulfill the Promise of Brown and Mendez (which is available free online at http://www.idra.org/publications/community-action-guide-seven-actions-fulfill-promise-brown-vs-board-education-mendez-vs-westminster/) that supports local leaders in taking specific steps to fulfill the promise of Brown and Mendez. This resource outlines key areas emerging from local dialogues, such as equitable funding, accountable schools, quality schooling, ensuring access and inclusion, and strengthening school holding power. This resource is intended to spark cross-sector cross-race action for joint leadership aimed at what must be done and what can be done together across all racial groups to create schools that are equitable and excellent for all children.
All children have equal rights to quality education, regardless of where they live and who they are. Educational equity is not just morally right, it is right for kids, right for learning and right for democracy. IDRA’s stand on this issue is not just for some, not just for most, but for every single child.
High school students in Albuquerque, New Mexico, participated in the Blueprint Dialogues by sharing through photographs and their words whether or not the promises of Brown and Mendez were being fulfilled in their schools. Here is a sample of their insights.
Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is IDRA director of development. Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate and director of the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2007 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]