By Eddie Melton
As a member the Indiana State Board of Education, I have built partnerships and engaged communities across the state in thoughtful conversations about educational opportunities. I believe that all Hoosier children, regardless of their zip code, race or socioeconomic background, deserve to be educated in an environment that is safe, academically challenging and technologically advanced. Unfortunately, educational inequities persist in Indiana between low-income and minority students, and their more well-off counterparts.
While many perceive these as isolated issues, gaps along racial and economic lines impact us all. These gaps marginalize vulnerable populations from the labor force before they complete high school, leaving them ill-equipped to succeed in a 21st century workforce. As a result we see disproportionate unemployment rates and low workforce participation across demographic groups, costing Hoosiers millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, social services, and unfortunately incarceration.
According to 2013-2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights African-American students in Indiana are four times more likely to be suspended than a white student. These exclusionary discipline policies lead to chronic absenteeism, diminished academic achievement, and dropping out of school. According to the 2015 ISTEP+ results, white students in Indiana are more than twice as likely to be proficient in both math and English/Language Arts as minority students. Low-income students, nearly half of all public students in Indiana, are also well-behind their more affluent peers. Only two out of five low-income students are proficient in Math and English/ Language Arts, compared to two out of three students who are not considered low-income.
I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. I have seen first-hand the obstacles present in Indiana’s urban centers. I have also seen children overcome these obstacles when given the chance. The potential is there, and we cannot afford to wait. Current 6th grade students in Indiana will graduate in 2024. By then, according to a recent occupational demand report, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development predicts rapid growth in skilled positions like healthcare, computer sciences, and advanced manufacturing. Failure to prepare our students now will result in societal and economic consequences in the future.
The first step is acknowledging that inequities exist. I am dedicated to drawing attention to this issue and fostering conversations in an effort to identify strategic solutions to these challenges. It will require all of us – educators, policy makers, community organizations, businesses, philanthropic organizations, families, and students – to use data to focus attention and demand that all children have an equal opportunity to succeed. I invite you to join the discussion, to listen to those impacted by these inequities, and to deepen your understanding of how these inequities impact your community.