By Chris Hill
Director, NC Justice Center’s Education and Law Project
There is an adage that says the “more things change, the more they stay the same.” It is the job of the Justice Center’s Education and Law Project to change what is not working in the education of the state’s children, to make what is working even better, and to ensure that each child receives more than the “sound, basic education” promised by the state constitution.
Fighting Resegregation and Racial Bias
The abandonment of Wake County’s diversity plan has made headlines across the nation. This should be major news. The Justice Center has been fighting the resegregation of North Carolina’s schools for years and will continue to do so.
However, even a diverse school is not necessarily color-blind. While it is unfortunate that the current Board of Education in Wake County is trying to return to a model where children are not educated with people of different cultural and economic backgrounds, there is no denying that racism and class bias have been problems in schools in the county and statewide.
The suspension rate for black students, particularly males, is alarming. A child should not fear a worse punishment than his counterpart for a similar infraction because he is of a different race and/or economic status. The Justice Center will work with parents and school leaders to ensure that diversity does not just mean that different people share the same space but that all students are given equal access to education.
Keeping Kids in School
When children feel disenfranchised and set apart, they are less likely to remain in school. We have to understand why children are choosing to end their educations before graduating. Whether it is improving teacher quality or assisting with the creation of programs that aim to keep students in school, the Justice Center will continue to work on dropout prevention. Unfortunately, many of the students who are dropping out are of lower income and are not provided the tools to succeed.
We are committed to assisting students in the rural and urban counties by developing solutions to keep the students in school.
Ensuring Adequate Support of Schools
In addition, the Justice Center is concerned with school finance. Our researchers are investigating the best ways schools can use their funding to educate children. It is important that students have the facilities to receive the sound, basic education they are promised. In order for students to fulfill their promise, the state must keep its promise. Supporting each school financially is a way to keep that promise.
The Justice Center is also committed to assisting parents by providing training and information so they can advocate for their children. We will continue with our Educational Leadership Institute, which trains parents and community leaders on the fundamentals of state education policy and advocacy techniques, and we will participate in trainings with our community partners.
Community is key. A 2009 study completed by NC State University showed that children with behavioral problems do better when their families and school personnel work together. These children become more interested in their education and their lives. The Justice Center advocated for changes to strengthen the state’s law on Personal Education Plans, which outline individualized interventions for struggling students. Now, we must ensure that this tool is being used, and we must get parents, teachers and administrators involved to ensure each child receives the most appropriate education. The Justice Center and our community partners will continue to work together to help parents become even stronger advocates for their children.
Things do not have to remain status quo for our children and their education. The Justice Center will continue to work for change because the fact is that North Carolina’s education system cannot afford “more of the same.”
Christopher Hill joined the Justice Center as director of the Education and Law Project in June 2010. Before coming to the Justice Center, Chris was the state strategies coordinator with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project. There, he engaged in public education and legislative advocacy in support of efforts to end the death penalty. Chris also worked as a supervising attorney for Legal Services of New Jersey, where he sought to remove legal barriers impeding prisoners’ successful re-entry into society. In addition to extensive litigation experience, Chris has spent much of his legal career conducting community outreach on legal issues. Chris has his bachelor’s degree and law degree from Rutgers University.