Race, Racism, and NCUST

When NCUST was founded in 2005, we focused on identifying, celebrating, and learning from schools where students from every demographic group excelled in multiple ways. Although national trends suggested that systemic racism and classism had driven intractable schisms between learning outcomes for diverse populations, we committed to finding and learning from schools where all students achieved academic proficiency, evidenced a love of learning, and graduated well prepared to succeed in postsecondary education, the workplace, and their communities. In short, we sought schools that exemplified how education could be a tool for social justice. We hoped to learn from these amazing schools and help many other schools and school districts emulate their successes.

Several years ago, when the great Robert Moses was a keynote speaker at our NCUST Symposium, he looked at our audience of educators and declared, “You are the insurgency.” He explained that by showing the nation what true equity and excellence looked like, we were a key component in an effort to overturn the status quo and create true opportunity for every demographic group in our nation. While we know that many societal institutions contribute to racism, classism, sexism, and other debilitating “isms”, we believe that public education does not merely reflect society; public education also influences the fabric and character of many societal institutions. We should not and cannot abrogate our responsibility to influence the communities that surround us.

As recent events remind us, there is so much work to be done. Just as we should recognize the systemic racism that allows police officers to get away with murdering unarmed Black men and women, and just as we should call out the racism and classism that allows medical professionals to get away with encouraging Black, Brown, and poor individuals with COVID-19 symptoms to stay at home and take Tylenol for their fevers, we should similarly recognize and commit ourselves to changing all of the “isms” that are systematically limiting the educational opportunities of millions of students across our nation. Achievement gaps are not accidents. They are products of our systems and structures.

I acknowledge that we, as educators, face huge and seemingly overwhelming problems. At the same time, the amazing schools we award and study, have shown us that meaningful transformation is possible. From the Bronx and Brooklyn in New York City to Brownsville, Texas on the US/Mexico border, from urban communities in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, Florida to schools in San Diego, Chula Vista, and Long Beach, California, we have been inspired by educators who have proven that schools can change lives and change communities. It has been our honor to visit, award, and learn from educators who have systematically ensured that children from all races, all income groups, all language backgrounds, all genders, and all other demographic categories are likely to succeed educationally. Our award-winning schools fuel both our optimism and our sense of urgency to pursue change in schools throughout this nation. NCUST will continue to be committed to supporting educators who dedicate themselves to the transformation. We are proud to work with you to become the insurgency that ensures a positive future for all children in our nation.

Joseph F. Johnson Jr., Ph.D.
NCUST Executive Director


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