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Race Matters in Educational Opportunity

Dr. Tonia Durden, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, facilitates an education breakout session at the Race Matters Conference.

The “Opportunity Gap” in education continues to be pervasive and difficult to address in Nebraska. As shown in our 2013 Kids Count, Black and Hispanic children have lower levels of proficiency in both Math and Reading compared to their White counterparts.  Although most of us are aware of these discrepancies, there is debate over the best way to address it.

Discussions of the Opportunity Gap were front and center throughout the recent Race Matters conference.  During the conference’s breakout sessions we heard from a number of experts on race equity issues in education.  Dr. Iheoma Iruka from the Buffet Early Childhood Institute and Tunette Powell, Founder and CEO of The Truth Heals, led the first breakout session. They discussed the importance of early childhood education, disparities in educational performance among Black boys, why these discrepancies exist, highlighting pre-school suspensions, and potential solutions to these issues. Next, we heard from Palma Joy Strand, a professor at the Creighton Law School & Werner Institute. Strand discussed her experiences addressing the achievement gap and institutional racism in the Arlington County public school system and provided insight into how Nebraskans can integrate Arlington’s approach to addressing racial equity issues in our educational system. At the end of the day, Gwyn Williams from Collective for Youth added to the conversation by discussing the importance of after school programs for minority youth.

Throughout both days of the conference, presenters and attendees of the sessions participated in lively discussions and friendly debates about how best to address the Opportunity Gap.  Participants came with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Attendees included: early childhood and school teachers, school board members, interested community members, and parents. Everyone was passionate about finding the best approach to addressing racial equity issues in education. Proposed solutions included providing race equity training to future teachers in college, board members, and current teachers. Participants also frequently discussed the need to eliminate preschool suspensions.

The passion and commitment from all that were involved was inspiring. We look forward to continuing conversations on these topics as we work to move the mark on educational opportunity for children of color.

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