Are school districts inequitable by design?

School boards hold immense power to determine the academic outcomes of children in their jurisdiction, but who truly holds them accountable on behalf of the most marginalized children? We talk to Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney, activist, and Executive Director of the Wayfinder Foundation, about her experience in the Twin Cities.

Posted by Citizen Ed on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy-Armstrong has spent her career cataloguing the patterns in the systems around her—and she’s found some harsh truths about how those systems are stacked against students and families of color, something that was true long before the COVID-19 crisis struck. But she’s not sitting on her hands, and her problem-solving energy is on full display in a new interview with Citizen Education and brightbeam CEO Chris Stewart. 

Levy-Armstrong, whose professional title is Executive Director of the Wayfinder Foundation, could very well print up business cards that call herself the pastor of “Activist Church,” as Stewart says in the latest edition of the “Education Is Power” Facebook Live broadcast

An Inequitable System Worsened by External Factors

Levy-Armstrong says that the challenges facing families amid lockdowns, shutdowns and distance learning are just as novel as the coronavirus. But those challenges are supercharged for the students of color who were already hammered by an inequitable system. 

Take the issue of education technology and internet access, Levy-Armstrong notes. In districts where students already don’t have much access to learning technologies, this time can simply shut off their learning. “A month in and they don’t have devices,” she says. “Not to mention if they do get devices, do they have internet access?”

If kids can’t access their teachers or lessons, how are they supposed to learn, after all? That’s why we here at Citizen Ed and brightbeam are working to fix that issue highlighted by Levy-Armstrong. Add your name here to demand internet for all families.

So Much More Than Technology

As important as digital learning has become, this crisis is temporary and it will pass—eventually. 

What Levy-Armstrong doesn’t want any of us to forget is that the students getting hurt most by the current crisis have been hurt for a long time by a lack of teachers and lessons and administrators who reflect their backgrounds and provide multiple options for how to succeed in school and in life.

That requires a renewed effort from all of us, she says. And we can start now, regardless of whether we’re quarantined or back in the classroom.

“We have to demand stronger literacy programs for our kids, that the teaching corps looks like our kids, and that those teachers are conscious even when they look like us,” she says. “We have to not be afraid to advocate for solutions that will help our Black children learn.”

And we can’t be satisfied with minimal gains. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for saying nice words. We have to provide material gains for our youngest citizens.

“Show me specifically what you have done to advance the cause of justice,” Levy-Armstrong says, and the kids we all care about will thrive. 

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