How New York’s School System Can Best Serve Communities of Color

By Au Hogan

Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, I never dreamed that one day I’d be sitting on a panel inside the New York State Capitol building, alongside some of the most prominent education reform leaders in the country. But like a lot of other parents, my children have sparked me to get involved — because I can’t stand to watch another generation of kids trapped in struggling schools with no hope for real opportunity.

This past week, I was honored to take part in a discussion at the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Conference about how New York’s school system can best serve communities of color. Parents and education leaders like Dr. Howard Fuller of Marquette University, Tenicka Boyd of StudentsFirstNY, Shavar Jefferies, the President of Democrats for Education Reform, Derrell Bradford from the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo President Samuel Radford III, Nicole Brisbane from DFER New York and Claudia Granados from Featherstonhaugh, Wiley & Clyne, LLP discussed the many challenges affecting New York schools. The hearing room was filled to capacity with parents, advocates and elected officials who all know that more needs to be done to expand school choice and provide access to quality schools for all students.

I know the challenges that a lot of families face because I face them myself. I am a district public school parent and grandparent, and my children, grandchildren and I all went through the New York City public school system.

My grandson Dre is an example of a child who is being failed by our broken education system. Dre’s a good kid with a loving family that values learning. Dre wakes up each morning and goes to his district public school and day after day he gets 100’s on his classroom work. But when it comes time to take the tests — you know, the ones that really tell you whether a kid is ready for the next grade — he isn’t cutting it. Instead of challenging him and preparing him with the real skills he needs to get ahead, the system just pushes him through.

Dre’s story is a common one. A recent report by StudentsFirstNY revealed massive grade inflation at New York City district schools. Schools in poor neighborhoods can just inflate grades and pass kids along through graduation, even though students aren’t learning what they need to know. Parents in black and brown communities need to feel comfortable about the education their children are receiving. Accountability goes a long way to making sure parents have confidence in their kid’s school.

Unlike traditional district schools, charter schools are held to strict measures of accountability. Charter schools, in turn, hold their students to high standards, and then provide the skills and training they need to meet those standards. That’s why school choice is so important to families in neighborhoods with struggling district schools. Our kids can learn, they just need to be given the opportunity.

Improving education for communities of color starts with expanding school choice and improving access to quality schools for all students. Kids in poor neighborhoods have just as much right to a quality public education as kids in wealthier areas. Now, we just need leaders with the political will to make it happen.

Some of the elected leaders with that will attended this panel and spoke reaffirmed the need for school choice and quality. What I heard from Assemblymembers Michael Blake, Marcos Crespo, Robert Rodriguez and Michaelle Solange is that it’s not enough to get angry about what’s happening in the classroom. We need to demand change through participating in the process, by voting and demanding our voices be heard. People in communities of color, like mine in Jamaica, Queens and across the state of New York need to speak up large numbers. We need to get active if we want to bring about change and I hope the panel hosted by StudentsFirstNY and Assemblymember Blake showed policymakers that how serious we are about wanting to improve the schools in our communities.

Au Hogan is a public school parent and grandparent from Jamaica, Queens. Click here to listen to the full audio recording of the event.