COVID-19 has proven to have disproportionate effects on Black, Latinx, and less financially fortunate communities in regard to healthcare, income, food security, and not surprisingly, the education of our children. Access to quality public schools in Philadelphia is not equitable and the pandemic has positioned a spotlight on already exacerbated, profound disparities in student’s access to educational support and learning opportunities.
As public schools prepare to transition some students to a hybrid learning model, the irony becomes even clearer. Suddenly families are given the choice to select the mode of education that best fits their child’s needs when, during pre-pandemic times, this fight for choice was met with resistance and, more often than not, ridicule. I have watched as budget cuts and tax abatements continue to allow our schools to suffer, which has led me to take part in this battle for educational choice so that all Philadelphia parents and families will have access to meet their child’s academic, social-emotional, and environmental needs.
A recent report on K to eighth-grade school quality and access to high-achieving schools displayed just how dire the situation is for Philadelphia families. According to the report, six in ten students attend low-achieving schools. Black and Latinx students are overrepresented in the City’s lowest-achieving schools (predominantly located in lower Northeast, Southwest, and North Philadelphia), while White and Asian American students are overrepresented in the highest-achieving schools (predominantly located in Central, far Northeast, and South Philadelphia). Schools labeled as “good” and “bad”, are literally minutes from one another yet, the only significant difference between those good and bad schools is the racial and socioeconomic status of their student bodies.
We have laid witness to these inequities again with the School District of Philadelphia’s third re-opening attempt. Undoubtedly a serious debacle, yet, their “fan gate” does have a silver lining to it. It has raised the voice of outcry from concerned parents and stakeholders highlighting that in the most crucial and dire times, there still remains a lack of investment in our education and schools. The divestment has not only been in academic materials but in protecting the welfare of our students; failing to install adequate safeguards to create healthy schools because of lack of money while continuing to reinforce the school to prison pipeline by funding school security personnel – displaying once again, why families need more options.
While I hope that most would agree a child’s zip codes should not be the deciding factor of whether they receive the resources needed to excel in life or determine whether they will be subjected to haphazard and unsafe environments, this is where we are today. This is our reality.
This achievement gap is rooted in systemic racism, which has led these disparities to be brought to the forefront when our students were forced to shelter in place- many without support or the technology to access their materials online.
While we understand that the Philadelphia School district has a 14 percent population of white students and its student body is also made up of Asian students and other multi-cultural ethnicities, we cannot overlook the fact that 73 percent of the student body is Black and Latinx and that those students, most likely because of “catchment-lining” are more educationally and environmentally more vulnerable than their counterparts.
School-choice has been an option for the affluent. Money should not be a barrier to equitable access to education for our children which is why I believe that there should be no barriers for families to attain access to schools and education that’s the best for their child. I believe collectively parents, teachers, administrators, and stakeholders can make positive steps on the path to finally repairing the inequities in our educational system. However, that path to success must start with everyone recognizing that families should have the right to choose a quality education for their children, not just during the pandemic and not just when asked to choose hybrid or digital learning, but every year, for every decision.
I’m hoping that these struggles we’ve all been faced with are not in vain and that as a result of this crisis, we can learn about and demand access to and improvement in the array of opportunities that should’ve always been made available for learning and support. Lastly, I’m hopeful that parents and supporters will continue raising their voices and increase their involvement with education-based organizations so that we are at the forefront of these conversations and decisions.
We have to work together to improve childhood academic achievement and student experiences, ensuring that every student in Philadelphia is provided an equal opportunity to accomplish whatever they want in life.