Why isn’t education on the Cleveland debate topic list? It should be: Victor Ruiz

CLEVELAND — Amid unprecedented uncertainty throughout the educational landscape in America, Black and Latinx children continue to be left behind. If nothing changes, these students risk irreversible losses in academic ground, with economic consequences for families and communities that will last well beyond the pandemic. Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 for students and schools is one of our nation’s most pressing issues. Here are just a few reasons why I’m surprised it is not a topic at Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland.

Communities of color have historically been, and continue to be, the most affected by gaps in access to quality early care and education, high-quality teaching and learning, and higher education opportunities that afford them the ability to earn middle-class wages and disrupt cycles of generational poverty in their families and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and inadequacy of our systems and shown us we must do much more to appropriately respond to Black and Latinx students’ needs.

In a world where technology rules, our children do not have basic resources like computers and adequate broadband to continue their education. Inadequate technology, coupled with high health risks, have fostered an environment in which communities of color risk losing decades of educational progress and are experiencing widening achievement gaps. Right now, thousands of children cannot participate in education because of solvable problems.

If these gaps are ever to be eliminated, communities of color must be offered an opportunity to play a meaningful leadership role in designing the policies that work best for us. We must have a seat at the tables at which the future of our educational system is debated and designed. Protests around the country underscore a lack of attention to the voices and perspectives people of color can offer. Policymakers have a critical opportunity to demonstrate that they value our input by intentionally seeking it.

Victor A. Ruiz

Victor A. Ruiz is executive director of Esperanza Inc.

For Black and Latinx students and families across the country who are desperate for schools that will put them on the path to exit poverty, we must offer bold solutions. Americans deserve to hear the candidates commit to demonstrating their commitment to our communities and creating sustainable change by:

* Articulating a strong new vision for the future of public education that provides race-specific, evidence-based solutions to prepare students of color to thrive in college and careers.

* Centering the voices and concerns of those who disproportionately bear the burden of inequity in this country and put forth targeted, race-based policy recommendations.

* Recognizing that parents and communities of color play an essential role in the educational success of their children by explicitly engaging parents and communities in decision-making and incentivizing partnerships between communities and their schools to define, monitor, and ensure success.

* Ensuring transparency and accessibility for communities, families and children to participate in school and system decision-making with clearly defined roles, policies and venues, including public meetings.

I lead Esperanza Inc., a nonprofit focused on improving academic achievement among Hispanics in Greater Cleveland. I am also a member of Education Leaders of Color, a national nonprofit that seeks to elevate the voices, leadership, and influence of people of color in education and improve education for Black and Latinx children. EdLoC is a national network of over 400 leaders of color across 40 states united by its Third Way Values: ending generational poverty; creating sustainable change; creating schools for all children; advancing multiple innovations; and going beyond education to holistically address the barriers to success for Black and Latinx students.

This is a critical time for those of us in this country who believe in, and fight for, the American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. Too many Americans are both intentionally and unintentionally kept from accessing the tools, resources, and connections we need to make the American dream a reality. It’s on all of us to create schools and experiences in which all children can thrive.

As candidates for the highest office in the land, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden must show the American people which of them understands that grave responsibility best.

Victor Ruiz is the executive director of Esperanza Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to improving the educational achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment. He is also a member of the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com.

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