It all leads back to schools. Name the gap between the races and it will evenly land at the school house door.

The wealth gap between white and black households is partially attributable to the inter-generational transmission of wealth, but it is also a function of income which comes most often from employment.

The best employment options heavily favor the educated. Employers see the problem in the form of a broken talent pipeline, and an ongoing battle to obtain a diverse workforce.

A new Forbes article says that problem will continue to persist as long as the “ongoing racial divides in the public school system aren’t fixed.”

One major problem: the national student body of public schools recently switched from having a white majority to being mostly children of color. At the same time “schools have made little progress either re-training white teachers or recruiting ones who look more like the populations they serve…(Latino and Asian students are among the fastest growing parts of the population).”

I see the wheels spinning in your head. Am I saying that white teachers can’t teach students of color?

No, that’s not the point. But research confirms the observable problems with racial mismatches between students and teachers.

I’ll let Forbes make the argument so I don’t have to:

It makes a difference. One example: New Department of Ed data confirms that black pre-schoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts, starting them on a track to failure early.

And low expectations persist. Another recent study from Johns Hopkins showed that when evaluating the same black student, white teachers were about 40% less likely to think that the student would finish high school than black teachers.

“The vast majority of K-12 teachers are white women, under pressure to provide an orderly classroom,” says Dr. J. Luke Wood, an associate professor and researcher who runs a doctoral program that helps train professionals to lead at the community college level. He is an expert on the issues facing boys and young men in the education system. “It’s important to realize how unprepared teachers are for the complicated lives of boys of color.”

Black and brown boys who do stay in school report feeling invisible to teachers and alienated from outdated curricula that doesn’t seem to include their experience. And, the pressure to police the parts of their identities that trigger anxiety in their white teachers, leaves all kids of color feeling conflicted and drained. “It’s important to shift the narrative around to what these kids need,” he says.

Let’s remember this as our activist friends push for a higher minimum wage and better basic employment benefits for low-wage workers. Those are temporary solutions (albeit, important ones) that will only help families subsist in quasi-poverty more comfortably .

The goal isn’t for them to stay there.

Through better education more people in marginalized communities can raise their income to home ownership levels, and that’s where the real magic happens. That’s a better bet for replacing inter-generational poverty with inter-generational wealth. To get there, I’ll end where we started.

It begins and ends with rethinking our schools.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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