“The deportation rate for undocumented black immigrants is because we are both black and undocumented simultaneously.”

The undocumented Black community is disproportionately detained and deported. And still, discussions of immigration reform and undocumented youth generally revolve around Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central America. To bring more visibility to the diversity of the undocumented student experience, I interviewed a recent college graduate from Connecticut—a young woman who is undocumented and Black. Her perspective helps shatter a common perception of U.S. immigration and disrupt the familiar narrative.

Melinda D. Anderson: In many accounts of the young undocumented immigrant, the protagonist is often a Latino youth from Mexico or Central America, whose family came to the U.S. to escape extreme poverty and violence in their home countries. Talk about how this dominant narrative can render the black and non-Latino immigrant experience invisible—absent from discussion and attention.

Ainslya Charlton: One concrete example is that the Black Alliance for Just Immigration(BAJI) found that black immigrants are being detained and deported at five times the rate of our proportion in the undocumented community. Many people do not realize that the immigration system is just as subject to anti-blackness as other government [systems] that are associated with enforcing structural racism. Resources that are donated with the intent to help undocumented immigrants are often targeted towards organizations that focus their efforts on Latino communities. This creates conditions where some of the only resources that are available for undocumented immigrants also have ethnicity restrictions that leave many that do not fit that mold behind.

Still yet, many of the anti-deportation protests are centered on Latinos that do not identify with an African descent. And microaggressions often happen within the immigrant-rights movement. Afro-Latinos and others are often dismissed when we make requests for translations into languages other than Spanish—such as Garifuna, French, and Portuguese. I once saw a flyer posted on Facebook for an action that was called “A Day Without Latinos” that was organized in response to an anti-immigrant bill. When I pointed out that there were people from other ethnicities that were also undocumented in that state [Wisconsin] and would also be impacted by that bill, people commented on my post by saying that if I had an issue with the way that the action was advertised, I should go out and protest instead of sitting at home. Since the face of the immigrant-rights movement does not include people like me, the assumption was that I wasn’t doing any work within the movement as an individual who identifies as an undocumented black woman … We have to advocate for ourselves and the issues that disproportionately impact us [in activist and political circles] where immigration is openly understood as a Latino issue.

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Latin School site, School St., Boston, MA Freedom Trail

What should feel like a major accomplishment—getting accepted into an elite public high school—can quickly go downhill if, as a student, you’re subjected to racial slurs, racial hostilities, and racist attitudes and behaviors. That is the reality for some Black and Latino students in the country’s most selective public high schools. And as the push to diversify these schools takes precedence, inadequate attention is given to creating school cultures that nurture and support students from all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

I looked at how racial conflict is affecting students at America’s most prestigious and sought-after public high schools—and what school leaders and staff can do to address this issue.

Balancing the underrepresentation of his culture inside school with cultural pride outside school is something that Matthew Mata, a Latino senior at Chicago’s Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, navigates daily. Throughout his high-school years he says he’s witnessed the equivalent of what was reported at Boston Latin. “The fact that only a few Latinos get the opportunity to receive a fully resourced education [which means] extracting me from my culture … and people who I can easily identify with” only accelerates racial tensions, said Mata, who travels from an “artistic Mexican neighborhood” to attend one of the most selective schools in the city.

To better meet the needs of its students of color, Payton hired a director of student engagement and formed a club—Payton People of Color—as a place to talk through racial and social issues affecting students. Mata sees it as an attempt to be more inclusive, but believes a club can only reap limited benefits: “There shouldn’t need to be a club so students feel safe [but instead] classroom environments where they feel safe.” He added that what elite schools like his need are opportunities for school staff to grow in their racial and cultural consciousness, through student testimonials and mandatory teach-ins on racism. “I believe that in order to confront an oppressive system, you must at times confront [administrators and teachers] with uncomfortable conversations to hopefully get your message across.”

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The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows a school or district to provide free lunch and breakfast to all students when 40 percent or more of its student body is found to be food insecure: they live in homes that receive food stamps, live in foster care, are homeless, or other criteria that identifies them as food vulnerable. The CEP is widely praised by educators and others for lowering administrative costs and feeding more hungry kids.

Yet the House subcommittee that oversees school nutrition programs has introduced a bill that would raise the threshold for schools and districts to qualify for the program. An analysis shows that some 7,000 high-poverty schools would be affected–forcing these schools to shift limited resources to managing paperwork and disrupting access to breakfast and lunch for low-income students.

Yes, hunger impairs school performance. Yes, school breakfast and school lunch can stave off hunger for impoverished children. And we never talk about why affluent children need to eat. It’s a given. Perhaps because eating is a basic human function. This week in The Atlantic I look at the political gamesmanship over something as basic as feeding hungry children.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the proposed bill are educators who live in Indiana, the home state of the bill’s author. The Republican Congressman Todd Rokita, who chairs the subcommittee that introduced the bill, represents an area in Indiana where nearly 34,000 children were rated “food insecure”—living in a household with limited or uncertain access to adequate food—according to the latest data from Feeding America.

The disconnect between politics and policy seems most glaring in the one aspect of school meals that is hardest to measure: the widespread stigma that students and families often attach to free meals at school. Morris C. Leis, the superintendent of Coffee County Schools in south central Georgia, said that community eligibility allows the district to serve free breakfast and lunch to over 6,400 kids—84 percent of the entire student population—but with the proposed change, six schools would be unable to participate, affecting some 3,800 children. A racially and ethnically diverse district, 28 percent of his community lives at or below the federal poverty level. “Coffee County has many [families] living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “For some students, the meals they eat at school may be the only meals they get during the day or even on the weekend.”

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In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” was coined to define the gap between people who had regular access to technology and those who did not—the proverbial technology “haves and have-nots.” Since then, the digital divide has shifted to mean more than simply being able to surf the web. And as technological needs and capabilities have grown, so have the inequities.

This week I looked at schools that filter and block certain websites on school Wi-Fi networks, as well as on school-issued laptops and tablets that students take home. The concerns and challenges all circle back to how heavy-handed internet filtering undermines student learning, particularly for children who depend exclusively on school-provided internet access and devices.

This common-sense viewpoint, however, has yet to trickle down to many schools, where over-filtering—filtering beyond the requirements of [the Children’s Internet Protection Act]—is common. One of the most ardent and active opponents of over-filtering to date has been the American Library Association, which for many years has championed the need to protect students’ access to “legal, constitutionally protected information that is necessary for their school studies [and] personal well-being,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the deputy director for ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. Stone said in some cases, the problem is as simple as school staff failing to adjust the pre-set maximum settings on filtering software, though much of the difficulty resides with school personnel who misunderstand the federal law and the requirements necessary to be in compliance. As an example, she said both the Federal Communications Commission and representatives from the Department of Education have issued guidance stating that Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms do not need to be filtered, but school districts often block these websites “on the grounds that students might access content barred by CIPA.”

This finding is confirmed by anecdotal and empirical evidence. In Maine, Portland Public Schools in April 2012 installed filters on high-school students’ school-issued laptops that banned access to social networks, games, and video-streaming sites. At the time, Portland was among the first districts in the state to authorize such stringent filtering on take-home school devices. As the Press Herald reported, Portland High School students had very different responses to the new policy, based on their access to another computer at home: “…those from middle-class families expressed various degrees of annoyance when told of the new filtering measures. A group of immigrant students reacted with anger.”

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Firefighting is a noble and selfless profession. And there’s a shortage of firefighters across the country. It’s also a physically dangerous and psychologically taxing profession. CareerCast, an online portal for job seekers, ranked firefighting the most stressful job of 2015. And firefighters have among the highest rates of injuries and illnesses, according to government data.

So, taken all together, this raises some questions about equity and opportunity when career academies at high schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged youth of color are preparing their students for firefighting, while career academies serving mainly white students—sometimes in the same school district—are preparing students for engineering and STEM careers.

Can such trends lead to “tracking” and perpetuate age-old inequalities for youth of color? Is this deserving of more scrutiny? My latest piece explores this issue.

[James] Kemple, now the executive director at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, said his study suggests that career academies can be an “equalizing force,” noting that most of his data was drawn from schools and districts with high concentrations of black and Latino students, and students from low-income families and communities. For the desired effects, he said, three important elements must work in tandem: strong personalized-learning environments, a commitment to helping students complete high school, and opportunities to participate in meaningful work-related learning experiences. The biggest threat is inflating any one component at the expense of another. “An over-emphasis on job-specific skills training could lead to tracking,” Kemple said, referring to the educational practice of dividing students based on perceived abilities. “From this perspective, [firefighting] should provide the same opportunities for integrated learning, career-development skills, and advancement to college as business and finance.”

Louie F. Rodriguez, an associate professor in the college of education at California State University San Bernardino, said he has seen this trend before when you take a traditional school environment and examine the program offerings by race, language, and class. Rodriguez, who co-authored Small Schools and Urban Youthsaid there is “a lot of research to suggest that tracking students by race … perpetuates inequality at the school level.” While considering some of the examples cited, Rodriguez said it is vital to scrutinize the degree to which all career academies offer all students the same opportunity to learn. “If some academies offer more academically rigorous and more selective courses, and there are clear disparities in enrollment patterns by race, language, and class, then there is obviously a need to be concerned,” he said.

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When teachers in schools serving under-resourced communities can only be cast as heroes, martyrs, or patriots in books and movies, the result has proven to be far-reaching—namely, damaging myths about urban students and urban schooling.

In my latest piece, I examine how these literary and film accounts reinforce harmful stereotypes of urban teaching, and bring to the surface underlying racial aspects – i.e., the “white savior teacher” – that add to the discord.

The trope of the gung-ho greenhorn in the wilds of urban public education can trace its roots back to popular classics like To Sir, With Love(1967) and contemporary films like Dangerous Minds (1995). In each, a novice teacher is able to overcome and succeed where others have failed. The stories entertain movie audiences, but it is the way in which these tales have shaped the discourse about teaching and urban schooling that is of rising concern among some critics in the education world.


Elden admits that these stories have the elements of a good Hollywood plot, but fall short as a guide for real teachers who “fall into the trap of comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels.” The maverick teacher “has become the only acceptable story to tell about our experiences as educators,” said Elden, adding that it creates a dynamic where beginning teachers are afraid to admit they’re struggling and soon are exhausted from trying to keep up with a false ideal.


This breed of books and films “hold up … white people as exceptionally brave or exceptionally self-sacrificing or just exceptional and heroic for doing the same work educators have done for years without fanfare,” said Royal, whose work with preservice teachers brings this sharply into focus. “I debunk this idea with my students before we begin field experience in Baltimore City schools each semester,” she said, stressing that “white saviors aren’t bringing light and hope. The hope is already in our students and in our schools and communities. Our job is to cultivate it, to bring out what already exists.”

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(Photo: Clark County School District)


Last month 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin danced with joy upon meeting the Obamas. Born in 1909, the centenarian has lived through 18 different presidents. But meeting Barack and Michelle Obama was a major achievement for the South Carolina native. Her excitement stemmed from coming face-to-face with a U.S. president and first lady of the same race: “I thought I would never live [to see] … a black president.”

While McLaurin waited many years for this accomplishment, there’s a generation of kids—pre-teens who came of age over the last eight years—who’ve never known anything else. I recently gathered a group of racially and ethnically diverse middle-schoolers to get their take on the significance and impact of America’s first black president.

Melinda D. Anderson: In 2008, when he was elected, there was a lot written about President Obama being the first black president. What does it mean to you that America elected a black man to be its president?

Josh Frost, 13: It shows we can change, because it shows that not only white people can be in the government. More people of different races would like to be president now, because Barack Obama became president. Before there were only white presidents, so they probably thought they had to be like them to do the job.

Avi Kedia, 12: It shows something [about] America, that somebody from a different race, other than white, can win the presidential election. We shouldn’t base the presidents just on race, we should base it on their actual skill. But it shows that somebody from a different race can rise up and go against what everybody else says and win. I could be president if I really wanted to. I just have to push myself. And it doesn’t matter if I’m Indian. It opens the door for everything really. If someone black can be president after it forever being white presidents, maybe a woman can be president. Or we can have a gay president. None of that even matters anymore.

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(Photo: The White House)


Black girls are routinely mischaracterized, mislabeled, and mistreated—and the issue begs for a deeper engagement and understanding from parents, community members, and especially educators. A new book, Pushout, examines the criminalization of Black girls in schools and offers interventions that can lead to more productive possibilities for these young women. My latest author Q&A explores this topic in more detail.

Melinda D. Anderson: Clearly some of the most blistering accounts emanate from black girls’ public-school experiences, where racialized and gendered expectations seem to leave them feeling simultaneously targeted and invisible. The use of zero tolerance and harsh school discipline is a culprit, along with the attitudes and behaviors of school staff. How do these elements work in tandem to derail black girls’ education?

Monique W. Morris:  When we combine latent misperceptions about black femininity with punitive discipline policies, we are paving the way for black girls to be disproportionately pushed out of schools. Black girls are the only group of girls overrepresented in all discipline categories for which data are collected by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. That is alarming. Zero tolerance and other punitive policies in schools leave many school leaders and educators with only one response to young people who act out.

[Further,] black girls express that a caring teacher is most important in their learning environment. When they connect with a teacher and feel a genuine love and appreciation for their promise as scholars, their relationship with school is more positive. However, research studies have found that African American children receive “more criticism and less support” from teachers—conditions that could alienate and push black children away from learning. Recent examples in New York City and Georgia demonstrate the hard work that is still needed to produce learning environments that acknowledge and invest in the positive potential of black girls.

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Tucson Ethnic studiesJswood-p1:: Tucson Magnet High School senior Evon Moreira,EVON MOREIRA, CQ, 17, middle with Honk sign, protests with fellow students and faculty(in front of her high school), a law that would ban Mexican American studies and other ethnic study programs at Tucson Unified School District schools, Thursday May 6, 2010 in Tucson, Ariz. The law is waiting for the signature of Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer, JAN BREWER, CQ.
5-6-10 Photo by James S. Wood

Ethnic studies has been around for over a century. Black studies, Chicano studies, cultural studies, multicultural studies—the name may have changed over the years, but a rose by any other name can still be a lightning rod for controversy. A new study linking ethnic studies to measurable student gains has sparked some interest in how to scale up such programs. While research finds ethnic studies works for some students, scholars in the field urge it’s good for all students—and the battle over ethnic studies rages on.

Indeed, today, school leaders and student activists, in communities of all sizes, are embracing ethnic-studies courses as a way to expand and diversify classroom content. Earlier this year members of the Providence Student Union, a youth-led organizing group, kicked off a new campaign advocating for ethnic studies for all high-school students. In making their case, student leaders called attention to the glaring disparity between the city’s public-school curriculum and the students it teaches; 90 percent of those enrolled in Providence schools are students of color. The student union’s review of a nearly 2,000-page history textbook found that less than 5 percent of the book was devoted to the contributions of people of color. “I’m Nigerian. I’m Muslim. I’m also an American,” the high-school student Latifat Odetunde told The Providence Journal, noting stories like his are what history books “leave out.”

But both Brooks and Charles state that this shift in knowledge and understanding is equally important for white students. Ethnic-studies courses dispel myths, Brooks said, and build connections among students as opposed to divisions. “Similar to students of color, white students have been miseducated about the roles of both whites and people of color throughout history,” she said, and culturally relevant lessons allow white children to “not only learn about people of color, but also white people’s roles as oppressors and activists fighting for racial change. This is very important because often whites feel there is nothing [they] can do to change racism.”

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(Photo: NYU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies) 


Are we replicating existing inequities for some students of color when we place the singular focus on coding? Is it preferable to integrate coding camps and classes with learning opportunities in schools? These are some of the questions answered in my recent article, titled “Will the Push for Coding Lead to ‘Technical Ghettos’?

Coding boot camps are just the first step, Brown said, arming students with simple skills when more complex diagnostic thinking is required to be truly skilled in the field. “The former is training, while the latter is education,” she said. This issue takes on greater significance when students of color are considered, raising issues of equity in the drive to racially diversify the tech sector and underscoring the difference between an occupation and a profession.

Kamau Bobb, the program director in computer-science education at NSF and Brown’s colleague, notes that the dominant argument in support of youth of color learning to code is to “get a good job”—creating a stratified system where students from racial and ethnic groups, and lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are prepped for work as service technicians and helpdesk agents. “While those [tech jobs] are needed and noble, they are at the very bottom … in terms of pay and prestige,” he said. Bobb contrasts this with white and Asian middle-class students who are urged to attend college and major in computer science. “What’s missing from this model is that students of color are offered a choice that truncates their ambition.”

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