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How the Education System Exacerbates Inequality

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

By Chronicle Staff | June 30, 2020

The country is in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected the Black community and a national movement to protest systemic racism in American life. The education system is at a juncture, too, recognizing its own role in exacerbating race and class disparities and the work it must do to achieve equity of opportunity.

Last week The Chronicle convened a virtual event to bring together educators from K-12 and higher education. The event was hosted by Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, and Scott Carlson, a senior writer at The Chronicle, and included William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia; Carol Johnson-Dean, interim president of LeMoyne-Owen College and a former school superintendent in Boston, Minneapolis, and Memphis; Zeus Leonardo, professor and associate dean of education at the University of California at Berkeley; Alicia Oglesby, director of school and college counseling at Bishop McNamara High School; and Kim Hunter Reed, commissioner of higher education for Louisiana. The event was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The discussion explored the education system’s underlying assumptions, what counts as high-status knowledge and who has access to it, and what approaches to increasing equity hold promise. The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity. This was the second event in a series on race, class, and education that will continue.

Poverty and Access to Opportunity

Zeus Leonardo: When we talk about race and class and education, I collapse race and class into one word, so a bit like Einstein collapsed spacetime, right? To me, "raceclass" is one word, no hyphen, no slash. Obviously it affects a lot of groups, including Latinx, Indigenous people, Asian Americans, etc. But in this moment, I feel that it's important to put our finger on Black education and the access to high-status knowledge, the kind of information or knowledge that gives students a better chance of getting to four-year colleges or elite colleges.

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