Or, and Iâ€™m just spitballing here, we could prioritize students in need.
As Portland Public Schools grapples with potential cuts of up to $12 million in the coming academic year, district leaders say the coronavirus pandemicâ€™s ever-evolving financial impact makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly where theyâ€™ll trim.
But Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and a rotating cast of administrators told the school board Tuesday theyâ€™ll aim to soften the blow to schools with high concentrations of students of color and those in low-income households rather than institute cuts across the board.
I have no doubt thereâ€™s significant overlap between the two groups of â€œstudents of colorâ€ and â€œlow-income households.â€ But Iâ€™m also sure that the Venn diagram isnâ€™t a perfect circle. What we should be doing is helping those who need it regardless of other characteristics. Our obligation to students isnâ€™t to say (rather paternalistically I might add), â€œYou are X, so you get extra help.â€ The obligation is to say, â€œYou need X, so you get extra help.â€Â
For a society frequently torn by racial divisionsâ€”the protests and riots of Minneapolis are only the latest exampleâ€”we have to find ways of moving forward that donâ€™t divide us unnecessarily. The rightwing and online Russian trolls trump up (pun intended) enough of those things without additional help from the progressive left.Â
But this sort of thing is now endemic to education in Oregon, pervasive in educational funding, the treatment of students, and the hiring practices of districts:Â
District budget documents outline an approach to hiring and spending meant to drastically boost literacy, math proficiency and high school readiness for students of color, goals the school board and district officials settled on last year.
What message is being sent to families and students, both minority and caucasian? To former, itâ€™s â€œyou need help because youâ€™re a person of color.â€ Maybe itâ€™s warranted, maybe not, but â€œyou need help because of who you are.â€ We are past the point of even trying to disguise this, and itâ€™s a sad commentary that so many people on the leftâ€”almost all of whom are well-intentioned I might addâ€”see this as a feature not a bug.
To the latter set of parents or students, itâ€™s hard to see how a low-income white student or parent doesnâ€™t feel resentful. Their needâ€”which now more than ever might be greatâ€”is not a priority simply on the basis of race. If the races were reversed most people would rush to condemn this. This resentment is not imaginary; it forms a large part of Trumpâ€™s appeal to his white voters. (Whether theyâ€™re right or not is immaterial here. Iâ€™m simply illustrating how some progressive policies are received by those who believe themselves to be disenfranchised by them.)
Officials also signaled theyâ€™ll prioritize retaining and promoting educators of color.
Over the course of the next year, the district will also have 300 employees undergo training in racial equity and social justice.
I take this to mean things are going to get worse, not better. We canâ€™t continue to do what weâ€™ve done and expect different results. And we continue to prioritize the wrong things.Â