Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Perspective | We have to face it to fix it

In the immediate aftermath of the racially-motivated mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, called on Americans to be honest and reflective. While serving as a panelist on MSNBC’s program Deadline, he offered critical insight about the source of the problem.

“This is us!” he said. “Either we’re going to change … or we’re going to do this again and again.” His premise was simple. So long as we recycle myths about ourselves, we will continue on this path.

But if we begin to tell the truth, we have a real chance at creating change.

With the release of our two reports, “Deep Rooted: A Brief History of Race and Education” and “E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools,” we hope to initiate the kind of candid discussion that leads to intervention. This research is the culmination of nearly 16 months of study in partnership with the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.

Racial disparities in American public schools are nothing new. For many students of color, unfortunately, their experiences in North Carolina do not differ much from the national trends. Most minoritized communities have always known intuitively their children are not getting the same educational opportunity, even if they haven’t known the data. The general public knows this too. But we appear to be resigned to the belief that it is natural and inevitable. This project takes a hard, nuanced look at how we got here and where we are today, in hopes of disrupting this pattern and charting a path forward.

Deep Rooted,” produced in collaboration with researcher Ethan Roy, is a historical analysis of our state’s legacy on race as it relates to education. While North Carolina has enjoyed a reputation of progressivism on both issues, this study demonstrates the myriad ways these two are braided together and have shaped our institutions. Spanning from emancipation to the present-day, we take a broad look at the evolution of our school system through the lens of race.

We establish that education has always had a racial dynamic in our state, and if we want to understand our present condition, we have to look at the root of our problems.

E(race)ing Inequities” provides a modern picture of how children of color in North Carolina experience our education system. With the help of researcher Nicholas P. Triplett, Ph.D., we give a comprehensive look at the influence of race/ethnicity on more than 30 access and outcome indicators for 1.5 million students in the 2016-17 year. All data is disaggregated by race to determine if there are significant disparities.

We also use statistical models to isolate the relationship of race, after accounting for other factors like gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, ability, and giftedness. There are 14 sections of this report broken out by various indicators (i.e., teachers, honors courses, GPA, discipline, etc.). Given the size of this report, a section will be released each day on for the remainder August to make content more digestible.

I must say, I am in agreement with Professor Glaude. We can no longer go on ignoring the issue of race or pretending it doesn’t have real impact on the lives of people. Specific to education, we have a long history that persists in misappropriating educational opportunities for students along racial/ethnic lines. While it may be difficult to discuss and unflattering to look at, we have to exhibit the courage to stare it in the face.

In other words, we have to face it to fix it.

But I am clear that admiring the problem alone will not change anything. To that end, my friend and colleague Janeen Bryant and I have formed the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). These reports are necessary steps in provoking change but alone are insufficient. CREED represents our response to a massive problem of racial inequity in education. We believe this issue is large and pervasive enough that it requires a stand-alone organization dedicated to tackling it head-on.

Our work is anchored by three primary activities: research, engagement, and implementation. We believe if we center students of color, inspire institutional change, and facilitate better educational practice, we can transform the education system so the lives and experiences of students of color are central to how schools function.

Find all content related to “E(race)ing Inequities” and “Deep Rooted,” including student and educator profiles and an animated video highlighting the main features of the report, here

Editor’s note: James Ford is on contract with the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research from 2017-2020 while he leads this statewide study of equity in our schools. Center staff is supporting Ford’s leadership of the study, has conducted an independent verification of the data, and has edited the reports.

James Ford

Dr. James E. Ford is the executive director of CREED — the Center for Racial Equity in Education. Ford served on the N.C. State Board of Education from 2018-2023. He previously taught World History and Sociology at Garinger High School in Charlotte, and in 2014-15, he was the Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.