Yes, debate critical race theory, but let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We should spend far more time in the pursuit of excellence—implementing reading instruction that would improve literacy outcomes for kids of all races. That would erase the stain of racism far more than endlessly debating critical race theory.
With a new school year underway, parents, teachers and children anxiously return to classrooms amidst an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But this year, school board members, teachers, academics, politicians and parents continue to argue over critical race theory and how to enact its version of equity.
Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution to support the teaching of critical race theory in public K-12 schools. The resolution initially listed among its sponsors liberal mayors like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, Portland’s Ted Wheeler and Louisville’s Greg Fischer.
Over the summer, Oregon governor Kate Brown suspended a requirement for students to demonstrate reading, writing and math proficiency in order to receive a high school diploma, in a supposed effort to build “equity.” The governor’s office said the new standards for graduation would aid the state’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”
These efforts by politicians to push critical race theory distracts from a real analysis of educational achievement in their states and cities. The real issue in American education is a failure to enable the majority of students—regardless of race—to achieve academic excellence or even, in many cases, basic skills.
We have a national crisis of education that most Americans aren’t paying attention to. Our school systems produce a small group of high-achieving students at the top and a massive group of low-achieving students at the bottom.
America has fallen into a multi-generational crisis of illiteracy. In terms of raw numbers, more white students are reading below grade level than Black students. Of the 1.8 million students who took the ACT in 2019, 36 percent did not achieve college readiness in any of the four subjects. That means about 650,000 American students, despite spending thousands of hours in school, were not prepared for college-level work in a single subject. And that number does not include the millions of students who did not take the ACT. Even worse, 19 percent of American high school graduates are functionally illiterate, unable to read well enough to manage daily tasks.