Our education system is failing the most vulnerable in society—children of color who grow up poor. On average, a black student is two to three years behind his white peer. Almost 70 percent of black fourth graders cannot read at grade level. The imbalance and inequities in public education that have existed for too long are still at work in communities of color.
Today, we welcome leaders from several civil rights organizations to the foundation to discuss the important intersection where equity, race, and ethnicity meet with public education and post-secondary learning.
We will spend the day working alongside our partners—learning about their work and sharing the latest developments on our strategies. But most of all, we will be listening.
Our partners are on the ground doing this work, and our strategies are informed and improved by what they tell us. Organizations like the National Urban League and the National Council of La Raza work every day to bring equal opportunity—including the right to a great education—to all. Together, we have a shared constituency and a shared mission. We are all committed to serving those who have traditionally been underserved.
At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe every child deserves a fair shot. In this land of opportunity, doesn’t everyone have the right to a great education, regardless of race, family income, ZIP code, or life circumstances?
Everyone should have the right to a great education, but the odds can seem insurmountable—smart, passionate teachers who burn out after just a few years, administrators who are stretched too thin, too few textbooks and classroom materials to go around, curriculum that is woefully outdated. Under such circumstances, a quality education—the best ticket out of poverty—can feel practically unattainable.
Everyone should have the right to a great education.
And that doesn’t just impact some individuals—it hurts all of us. It robs America of our collective potential. Our country’s future depends on a vibrant economic climate that fosters innovation, employment, and technology. That can’t happen if our education system keeps falling further and further behind other nations.
Reasons to Hope
We know that poverty and race are complex issues. We also believe that a quality education offers the best chance for a young person of color to escape the poverty trap.
I am optimistic about our way forward. We are all learning more than ever about what works to support student achievement for all students. With the right solutions and the right partnerships, together, I firmly believe this nation can overcome the challenges of poverty and offer our children the chance at a better tomorrow.
These challenges illustrate that there is no silver bullet solution, and that there are many factors outside the school grounds that we cannot control. But that’s exactly why teachers are more essential than ever —because they can do so much to empower students, and to give them the tools they need to navigate a tough environment. Across the country we see examples of dedicated, talented teachers who lead their students to success despite long odds. They walk into their classrooms, determined to reach every last child, no matter what it takes. It’s great teachers that give us our great confidence that every child—regardless of circumstance—can learn.
We recognize children need a lot of additional support to succeed, from early childhood education advocates to family and parenting support, childhood health and nutrition assistance, and anti-poverty programs. We are proud of the partnerships we’ve built with Civil Rights and Equity Organizations that work on these issues, because all of us have a role to play in helping our young people succeed, and we need to work together to make that happen.
So, what do you think? Are you seeing progress in your community to help underserved students? Do you have ideas about how we can make greater change in our schools? What are your reasons for optimism that we will find a way to great student outcomes together?
Follow the conversation on Twitter and share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #EDequity.
I’m excited to learn from everyone and encouraged about how we’ll work together to turn our conversations into action.