2016 – Our election, Race and Educational Reform or Why We Need Institutions

June 07, 2016

If you want to talk about education reform, you will find a lot of statistics about poor performance and theories on how to tackle it.  So far, easy.  There is still much controversy about how to fix the problems but most agree that the biggest problem is addressing educational achievement for poor students.

When you talk about "poor students", it’s also a round-a-bout discussion about race. A report issued by the Southern Education Foundation found that for the first time in 2015, the majority of US K-12 students were low income (51%).  We also know that students living in poverty are overwhelmingly non-white.  

A group of edreformers gathers every year at the NewSchools Venture Summit.  It assembles a group of like-minded folks dedicated to fighting for change in schools. I attended this year’s iteration of what was traditionally just called “Summit”.  Mostly homogeneous in the past, this year was very different,  Summit was inclusive, diverse and transparent.  Genuine disagreements were expressed and a holistic step toward ed-reform solutions had begun.

Race was at the center of this year's conversation. Education reform carries the difficult question at its core: how does a group of mainly white people, well intentioned though they may be, have the right to decide about other people’s children?  At Summit, I experienced a real shift in attitude, open to leadership and insight from communities of color as partners in solving these issues.

One question was left hanging:

Real equality would require that privilege be acknowledged and let go.  

How is that going to happen?

Historically, achieving equality has not been an easy or smooth process but our democracy has made many very significant changes; often in dramatic ways.  Women fought for the right to vote.  LGBT plaintiffs achieved rights of parity last year through a legal fight. Through those fights and many others before them, our American system has changed and evolved and ultimately overcome what had seemed insurmountable differences.

Such is where we find ourselves in this election year.  Our national dialogue has been heavily focused on inequality, race and privilege.  Both parties are talking about the issues albeit in different ways.  

Our democratic institutions and processes provide us with the structure to hold tensions about the pace and the need for change - not easily but fairly. That is why it is so very important that every student learns about our unique American democratic system.  They must understand the system because they will be the guardians of the values that all Americans must hold dear.  They will be the ones who will make this nation better.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States.”


Learn more about the Summit here.

Follow #NSVFSummit on Twitter here.


Louise Dubé is executive director at iCivics. Louise has devoted her career to ensuring that all students are prepared for active and thoughtful citizenship and life.  Follow her on Twitter @Louise_Dube 




  • A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools, Southern Education Foundation, 2015.
  • The Condition of Education. Family Characteristics of School Age Children, May 2016.
  • National Equity Atlas site