America's public schools, beset with racial ills, face a long and difficult road to improvement, panelists said last night at a discussion at the Kennedy School of Government's ARCO Forum.
Moderator Reverend Charles Stith, national president of the Organization for a New Equality, began the discussion by asking the panelists to explain the nation's public education crisis.
Maria de los Angeles Montes, principal of Boston's Lucy Stone Elementary School, said the lack of minority teachers at public schools in districts with a large minority population is a key problem.
Because many teachers at her predominantly minority school are minorities themselves, Montes said, "Barriers can be diminished."
Panelists said education has made little real progress since the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which desegregated U.S. schools.
Panelist Cheryl Henderson Brown, a relative of the plaintiff in the historic case, said discrimination against minority teachers today is reminiscent of the days before desegregation.
Even now, some black teachers are passed over in favor of equally or less qualified whites, said Brown, executive director of the Brown Foundation for Education Excellence and Research.
With little discord, panelists reached a consensus that, in addition to racial problems, poor teacher training is a key fault in America's public education system.
Mary Beth Vanderwiel, an official with the Chicago public schools, noted that bad teachers can "turn [students] off of education for the rest of their lives."
Panelists also discussed the lack of community involvement in schools.
Harry Spence, deputy chancellor for operations of the New York City Board of Education, said voters without children in the public schools seem reluctant to support education funding.
Schools are also struggling to keep up with the times, panelists said.
"The world has changed, and we're just trying to play catch-up," Montes said.
To bridge the gap with the outside world, Montes implemented a partnership between her school and local businesses and organizations--including the Kennedy School of Government.
The panelists agreed that reforming America's education system will be difficult.
But, said Vanderwiel, "I have a lot of hope."