Poverty & Safety Net

Addressing racial disparities in childhood: Opportunities in education

February 25, 2019
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This is the second blog in a series responding to the infographic report on racial disparities in Cleveland that I authored in December. Click here to read the first blog.  

The existence of wide disparities between black and white children living in poverty is not surprising. Poverty is a measure of income relative to family size (I wrote more about the poverty measure, and some issues with it here). As is pointed out later in my Racial Disparities infographic report, black Clevelanders earn less money than their white counterparts and have higher poverty rates, therefore, their children are also more likely to live in poverty. The primary solution to child poverty is simpler to say than it is to accomplish: their parents need jobs that pay a living wage. I will write more about solutions to income disparities in a future blog.  

What is Cleveland doing, and what more should we be doing to create equitable opportunities for children in our community?

Every child deserves access to a quality education

While we know that education alone does not eliminate disparities in other outcomes, it does help close the gap and create opportunities for black children as they move through life. Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) is a majority minority school district, with 65% of the student body being black, and 15% being Hispanic.[1] Strategic investment in schools to improve educational outcomes for children of color in Cleveland is vitally important.

Create more equitable ways of funding schools

The way that schools are funded in Ohio was found unconstitutional more than 20 years ago because it relies on property taxes, which gives an unfair advantage to communities with higher property values. [2] This is particularly problematic for communities like Cleveland, where property values are much lower than most other communities in the county. Education funding is too complex to take on in this blog, but the state should consider examples from other states that have used various policy levers to ensure that districts with higher needs receive adequate funding from the state.[3]

Say Yes to Education

Cleveland was recently named a “Say Yes to Education” city (Say Yes), which means that there will be an influx of resources dedicated to supportive services for students, as well as scholarship opportunities for CMSD graduates who go on to qualifying two- or four-year colleges.[4] Say Yes is an opportunity to support whole families through wraparound services within schools, and it can also help families overcome the huge barrier of paying for college education. In some ways, Say Yes will build upon work that has been done for the past five years in CMSD’s Investment Schools- the lowest performing schools in the district that have received additional resources and wraparound services in an effort to increase performance. But Say Yes has the potential to impact every student in the district, not just those who attend select schools.

Focus on social emotional learning and trauma-informed education practices

As my colleague Brie Lusheck has written about (here and here), childhood trauma has a profound impact on development, leading to poor outcomes later in life. Black children are particularly vulnerable to many adverse childhood experiences because they are more likely to live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, [5] which often experience increased violence and other types of community trauma. CMSD has implemented Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices district-wide,[6] and some schools in the district are designated by the state as Trauma-Informed Schools.[7] Cleveland should continue to improve its capacity to proactively respond to trauma that students have experienced in order to create environments where all students can receive the quality education they deserve.

Eliminate risk of lead exposure for children

A recent report found that more 93.5 percent of Cleveland kindergartners who were screened had some exposure to lead, and more than a quarter had a history of lead poisoning.[8] The problem was particularly concentrated in schools located in majority black neighborhoods,[9] indicating that black Cleveland children could be disproportionately impacted by lead exposure. Research has shown that exposure to any amount of lead is harmful to children, and leads to health problems including developmental delays, learning disabilities and behavior problems,[10] all of which impact a child’s ability to get a quality education. Due to rising pressure from local media and community members, the City of Cleveland and community partners, of which Community Solutions is one, have formed a Lead Safe Coalition which aims to make all Cleveland homes lead safe. The coalition plans to convene a summit before July to work toward solutions to the widespread issue of lead exposure.  

These solutions only begin to scratch the surface of the possible opportunities that can be created for black children in Cleveland to thrive. Each solution also has the opportunity to improve equity for black children and all children of color in Cleveland, if done thoughtfully and within a racial-equity lens.  

[1] https://projects.propublica.org/miseducation/district/3904378  

[2] https://www.ideastream.org/stateimpact/2017/04/25/ohio-school-funding-unequal-20-years-after-supreme-court-case  

[3] https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/94961/making-sense-of-state-school-funding-policy_0.pdf  

[4] https://www.crainscleveland.com/education/cleveland-officially-named-say-yes-education-community  

[5] https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/11-3-15hous2.pdf  

[6] http://www.clevelandmetroschools.org/Domain/108  

[7] http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Student-Supports/PBIS-Resources/Trauma-Informed-Schools/Become-a-Trauma-Informed-District-or-School  

[8] https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2019/01/an-uphill-battle-lead-poisoning-stunts-students-learning-while-cleveland-leaders-fail-to-tackle-lingering-problem.html  

[9] https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2019/01/08/theres-something-race-about-these-cmsd-lead-findings-race-that-we-cant-quite-race-put-our-finger-on  

[10] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354717

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