Black Women Striving for Quality Education

Sharon H. Porter, Ed.D.

Editor-In-Chief, Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media™

In 2015, world leaders from the United Nations (UN) agreed to 17 Global Goals known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. Goal number four is Quality Education; “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.  Goal four has ten targets in order to create action to ensure quality education. As a Black woman and lifelong public educator at almost every level of schools, and having had nearly all related titles, target 4.5 (Eliminate All Discrimination in Education) resonates with me the most.

Black children are still underserved served and continue to underperform relative to their peers of other racial groups in public schools.  Black women and girls and African Americans, in general, were impacted by school segregation.  Decades of legal struggles against the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education allowed for unequal schooling conditions for African American children.  Recent school reforms such as No Child Left Behind, notwithstanding its positive intent, still failed to bring the achievement of educational outcomes for African American students to par with that of students from other racial groups (Center on Education Policy, 2010).

The African American achievement gap still exists. While there are many factors to contribute to this gap, lack of resources and school funding continue to be primary factors. About eight percent of public education funding comes from the federal government.  The remaining funds come directly from local, state, and private sources (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Local funding is based on property taxes. Students who reside in areas with lower property value are more than likely to attend schools that have less funding. Even within the same school district, schools experience “funding segregation” (Massey, (2004).

The Role of Black Women in Education

I have served as a public school educator in three school districts and two states. I am currently in a large urban school district in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area.  A district that is quite unlike any other school district in the nation.  The majority of the educational leaders in this particular district are African-American,  African-American women, specifically. From the superintendent, central office administrators, area superintendents, and principals, you will find Black women with advanced degrees in leadership positions. In addition to serving in the Washington DC area, I served as a principal in a school district in North Carolina, where I was the first and only to-date African American woman principal at the school, and the only one in the city at that time. This was quite a different scenario. For the first time in my life, I experienced direct racism from parents that were not accustomed to a Black woman leading this particular middle school. Some refused to speak with me if they had concerns but elected to speak to the White male or female assistant principals. I was even accused of only being hired because the Black woman associate superintendent knew me.  This was completely false, as I had never met the associate superintendent until the day of my interview.

According to the latest data published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Black women make up 16.4 percent of graduates with a bachelor’s degree, 14.3 percent of graduates with a master’s degree, and 11.1 percent of graduates with a doctoral degree. I am honored to be a part of all those statistics. 

Now more than ever, there are more Black women in positions of college presidents, deans of schools, and superintendents of school districts. In the book collaboration, Women Who Lead in Education, Superintendents  Sheila L. Sherman, Nyah Hamlett, Alena Zacher-Ross,  Daisy Hicks, Tahira Dupree Chase, and  Mary Young shared the struggles and successes of serving as school superintendents. In the Foreword,  Lillian M. Lowery, wrote  that when her role as a district superintendent became daunting, she called her mentor.  I do believe that having others to support you in your educational journey is key, whether you are an educator or student.

As the UN describes quality education as ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”, I believe that the standard for quality should be well-defined and able to be measured.  Quality education is definitely more than “reading, writing, and arithmetic”.  We must continue to focus on gender and racial equality in education, how safe our schools are, and the effectiveness and qualifications of educators.  Education must add value to the lives of students.

References

Center on Education Policy. (2010). A call to action to raise achievement for African American students. Student Achievement Policy Bried #1: African American Students

Massey, Douglas S. (2004). The new geography of inequality in urban America. Yale University Press.

Porter, Sharon H. (2021). Women who lead in education: featuring superintendents. Perfect Time SHP Publishing.

U.S. Department of Education (2017). The federal role in education. Retrieved from www2.ed.gov.