The status of public education in Charleston County has been the subject of intense though warranted scrutiny by a high-profile report, “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015.” Dr. Stacey Patton, a professor of History and Journalism at Morgan State University and acclaimed author, published the report in consultation with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, which was commissioned by the Race and Social Justice Initiative. This Lowcountry-based initiative seeks to promote public awareness, to increase dialogue about race, and effect long-term systemic change on issues surrounding race and injustice. Unfortunately, the findings on education and the call for a public statement regarding a commitment to racial disparities in our school system have been largely ignored.
The Quality Education Project (QEP), a grassroots research-based organization focused on improving education policy, political leadership in Charleston, and public education for all students, seeks to reiterate some of the main points of the report.
First, while white students in Charleston County graduate at a rate of nearly 91%, black students graduate at a rate of just 75%—the widest disparity between black and white students in the Tri-county area. Education is used as a tool in real estate development, the attraction of new industries to the area, and job placement with developers and companies citing dismal education statistics as a rationale for not building or investing in certain local communities. A lack of quality public education detrimentally impacts our potential economic growth and development.
Second, as QEP has noted in the past along with other education advocates such as Pastor Thomas Dixon, AJ Davis, Shakem Atep, organizers affiliated with the ACLU and Charleston Area Justice Ministry, and the late Muhiyyidin d’Baha, among others, school discipline in Charleston reflects racial disparities and institutional racism. On the high school level alone, the majority of school suspensions and arrests are comprised of African American students. In fact, of 8,018 suspensions, 6,636 or 83 percent were African American, though black students make up less than one-half of the student population.
Other racial disparities abound and QEP encourages everyone to read the report to determine their own conclusions. The report can be found on our website: www.QualityEducationProject.org.
Finally, QEP seeks to issue a call for action, which, following the disparities report, begins with the Charleston County school board. QEP agrees firmly with the report’s assertion that public education does not meet the needs of the emerging majority of its students who are predominantly poor and black. Indeed, this claim is not at all startling nor controversial, as most school board members and district officials agree with the assessment. What is more divisive is the solution.
QEP calls upon all Charleston County School District Board of Trustee members to formalize their commitment to diversity and racial equity in the delivery of public education in Charleston County. Formal statements should detail what their vision for diversity and racial equity is in the district and indicate their plans for implementation. By formally stating their commitment to diversity and racial equity, especially before the November elections, the board will communicate a message that elected officials are heeding the call to eradicate ongoing racial disparities. Further, the district should consider solutions recommended by the report such as hiring more teachers of color, employing diversity workshops for district personnel to raise greater awareness concerning the need for racial equity, and implementing fairer disciplinary policies across the entire district.
This call will create transparency and help build trust with parents, educators, advocates, and students who continue to harbor resentment for a board that is perceived to be reluctant to address these important issues. Formalizing a commitment to diversity and racial equity prior to the November election is a critical step in eradicating racial disparities in our school district.
Kendall D. Deas, Ph.D
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education Policy and Law
Honors College Faculty Fellow
Director of Diversity Education, Training and Grant Initiatives
Office of Institutional Diversity, College of Charleston