We are saddened and outraged by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless number of Black lives already lost to systemic racism and violence. Combined with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 on African American families and communities, these killings are a stark reminder of our country’s failure to address the structural racism and injustices that threaten the fabric of our democracy and our hopes for a better future for America’s children.
Changing the policies, practices and behaviors that create and perpetuate deep and lasting harm to communities of color will require systemic and transformative change. This type of change necessitates collective action that involves every institution and organization taking stock of their own roles and responsibilities.
For Attendance Works, this situation is a call to action to examine how we use our resources, tools and partnerships to do a better job of recognizing and addressing the institutional biases and racism that contribute to the disproportionately high levels of chronic absence among Black students as well as Native American, Pacific Islander and Latinx students.
It is a call to action to do more to acknowledge and address the racism that pushes students out of school, diminishes the voices of parents and guardians, prevents the offering of engaging and culturally relevant curriculum, prioritizes school police over restorative practice or counseling supports, and results in drastic underfunding of school districts and school buildings that predominantly serve our country’s Black and Brown students.
The recent events are also a palpable warning that we cannot be silent about the often ignored racialized community challenges that are also reflected in high levels of absenteeism, such as housing discrimination, mass incarceration, over-policing, inequitable access to health care, and a scarcity of affordable goods and services in particular zip codes.
While we are not sure of the exact route forward, we are committed to doing what is needed to make a difference in the field of education, which is our path to promote change. We recognize this requires immediate action and a long term investment.
We will fight for the collection, analysis and public release of data that allows us to monitor and illuminate when inequities in education must be addressed. We will help schools and communities unpack what is leading to worse outcomes, especially for Black and Brown students, and call out what is needed so that high expectations coupled with necessary support make learning possible for all.
We will use our strategies, tools and resources to ensure school communities combine relationships with data to ensure every student and family, especially those who are marginalized, feel a sense of belonging, connection and support and have a voice in creating the kind of school they need to thrive and excel. We will leverage our communications to highlight the schools, communities and practitioners who show that change is indeed possible, especially for students and families of color. And we will continue to examine and strengthen our internal capacity to address racism as an organization.
Hedy N. Chang
Executive Director, Attendance Works
Note: The writing of this piece and our work on equity as an organization would not be possible without the support of a diverse team willing to add in their own knowledge and observations. I want to express special appreciation to Senior Fellow, Dr. Beshon Trusty-Smith who allowed me to draw upon her thoughtful writing and insights as we developed this blog.