Education and struggle for equity highlighted nationally with focus on Shaker Heights Schools

Updated: Feb. 13, 2020 at 3:23 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - During Black History Month, 19 News is delving into a difficult history with our series "400 Years: The Vestiges of Slavery in Cleveland.”

We are looking into the achievement gap and how education for African-American students can be improved.

A story from the Washington Post last fall sparked a big conversation about race and education.

The article centers on education in Shaker Heights.

The author, journalist Laura Meckler, went to Shaker Heights Schools.

Meckler, who is white, spoke to 19 News about her experience as a student.

She found her perception of her education changed over time.

Meckler said even though Shaker Heights has a deep commitment to racial integration, it also has problems you find everywhere.

She realized black and white students were not having the same experience.

Meckler's reporting found 68 percent of white 11th-graders were enrolled in at least one AP or IB course last school year, but just 12 percent of black students were.

She found implicit bias is part of the problem.

“Teachers are not teaching in Shaker because they want to discriminate against students based on race. Nobody’s doing that, I’m sure in any sort of conscious way. But when I was in Shaker, I talked to so many African-American students who told me stories, and parents who told me stories where it seemed like assumptions were being made about them and they were being treated in a way that was different than they may be by white students,” she said.

Nationwide, most teachers don’t match the changing face of the student population.

Just 20 percent of the nearly four million public school teachers across the country are teachers of color, compared to 51 percent of students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

But Meckler said the fact that Shaker Heights is having this conversation puts it miles ahead of much of the country.

“You know there are a lot of people who live in Shaker who are committed to moving forward. There are community builder groups. There are conversations happening around the issues of equity. I think there are also people who would rather not talk about these issues, so I think it’s a little bit of a mixed bag,” she said.

She said she was blown away by the conversation her article started.

“I don’t know that anybody had a solution there either, but there was a lot of conversation about grappling with these issues and how do they get to a better place. So, I think that there was some really positive community discussions, constructive discussions,” Meckler said.

19 News went to Shaker Heights to see how the school district is taking on this challenge.

We'll explore how leaders in our schools have a big effect on how well African American students fare.

Our series “400 Years: The Vestiges of Slavery in Cleveland” continues Thursday night at 6 p.m.

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