Education equity is becoming a popular phrase among educators, but what does it mean, and what is North Carolina doing to provide a sound education to both privileged and disadvantaged students? Nonprofit news organization EdNC explores the topic in their new documentary series “Equity Meets Education,” a story told through the eyes of four African-American leaders.
EdNC reporter Liz Bell produced the four-part film series. It is difficult to have a discussion about equity in the classroom without addressing race. Bell said, “Black students in North Carolina are more likely to be suspended from school than their white peers and have worse academic outcomes than their white peers when it comes to cohort graduation rates, EOG test scores and other measures.”
James Ford, North Carolina’s 2014 teacher of the year, shared what he learned once he left the classroom and discovered the politics behind education. “What ends up happening is we try to do a one-size-fits-all type of deal, and people are unequally situated,” Ford said. “And so when you recognize that due to race – when you recognize that due to poverty and a host of other factors – that kids don’t have the same starting place, you have to take that into account if you really want to equalize the opportunity for children.”
Charlotte Assistant Public Defender Toussaint Romain shed light on the school-to-prison pipeline that prepares prison beds before a child reaches middle school. After noticing that many of his clients were dropping out in ninth or 10th grade, he spoke to Peter Gorman, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg county superintendent. Gorman told him that the high dropout rate is because students were unable to pass base level English and math classes. Gorman explained that the system did not fail students in ninth grade, it began in third grade. “The number of students that fail that exam is how we determine how many prison beds to actually make,” Romain said.
One of the possible causes of for the lack of equity in the classroom is the lack of minority teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80 percent of teachers in the country are white and only 2 percent are African-American men. Jason Terrell, educator and creator of Profound Gentlemen, discussed his organization which is dedicated to mentoring men of color entering the teaching profession. Terrell said there are many reasons the number of minority teachers is low. “The school culture and climate is not conducive for a lot of these men,” Terrell said. “We’re talking about pay. We’re talking about a lack of professional development that they offer – the opportunity to navigate the career ladder.” Terrell explained, “There are a lot of barriers in place that’s not really making the profession valuable.” Terrell says their motto is “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Young men of color are not seeing teachers that look like them and therefore don’t aspire to be educators.
The Equity Meets Education Film series screens Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Tarboro Brewing Company in Edgecombe; Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Full Frame Theatre in Durham; and Friday, Feb. 12 at the Levine Museum of New South in Charlotte.