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Leaders address racial disparities in education and potential solutions

Trainings, new curriculum, and increased awareness can help to decrease the equity gaps in education for Black students.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Across Pennsylvania, work is underway to address racial disparities in education.

In particular, leaders are discussing what training can be offered to teachers and staff as well as what curriculum can be implemented to create a more inclusive environment for black students.

"We hear there are a lot of challenges in classrooms. A lot of microaggressions," explained Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director for the PA Human Relations Commission.

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, "a microaggression is a comment or action that often unconsciously expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group."

Lassiter says he hears about microaggressions within school districts too often.

"Community activities, as well as parents, who have informed us, often times, they feel their children are not seen in positive lights. They are stereotyped. Often times, they are led to believe they are a problem," stated Lassiter.

When microaggressions happen, it can lead to actual problems.

"The young person can become depressed. They can feel they have no one to go to. It can lead to forms of anxiousness, withdrawing from school activities you may like: mathematics, after school sporting programs," added Lassiter.

All of which can widen the academic achievement gap between black and white students.

"If you look at representative data students of color are over represented in the data you're trying to decrease, so the number of students who are expelled or placed in alternative placements, and they are underrepresented in sometimes your rigorous course tracks, if schools offer AP courses," said Brianna Crowley with the PA School Boards Association.

It's also important for people to recognize the importance of black history.

"In Utah, a school said students can opt out of learning out of Black History Month. My question would've been, ‘would it be okay for students of color to opt out of white history?’ African American history is a part of the fabric of American history," said Lassiter.

The national expert on race relations adds not grazing over certain parts of history.

"We teach young people about the presidency, but rarely are we verbalizing them that the first presidents of America owned slaves. We get away from that history, but I think that's one of the most powerful tools," said Lassiter.

New curriculum that dives into the contributions of people from all different backgrounds can be pivotal too.

"It's needed. It's long overdue," stated Lassiter. "I think that if we teach young people that their educational experience is going to be like a kaleidoscope, that it's the 'American quilt', that each segment is part of the quilt, that's going to clove the Democracy in truth, love, and kindness."

"There is a huge benefit, and we can't forget that white students also benefit," explained Crowley.

Crowley adds, it's not just about inequity; She says it's important for Black students to realize their worth and the many different things Black students bring to the table compared to their counterparts. 

According to the Brookings Institute, there are 7 findings which illustrate the racial disparities in education. The Brookings Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. which conducts in-depth research to pinpoint new ideas for problems facing society.

Experts say education is not the only avenue to take to address equity gaps, but it can be the pathway to minimizing the difference.

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