Public Schools, Race, and COVID-19

Public Schools, Race, and COVID-19

If you follow this space at all, you know that we are very big on equity at CMSi.  All students, no matter their background, income level, country of origin, skin color, or primary language, deserve the fullest and best opportunity to learn.  All students deserve the gift of the highest expectations for their performance and the support necessary to achieve those expectations.

Unfortunately, this paradigm is not the norm in U.S. public schools.  We have written before about the factors that afflict poor districts and schools — higher teacher turnover, inadequate funding, de facto segregation leading to lower graduation rates, lower college entrance rates, lower incomes throughout life, and so on.  We’ve also written about the Vanderbilt study that showed white teachers were less likely to recommend African American students for gifted or advanced study even when test results for those students were the same as those of the white students who were recommended.  Conversely, black teachers were far more likely to recommend students of color for advanced and gifted study when their test scores indicated aptitude.

So here’s a success story that follows these same lines.  A doctor at the NIH is poised to introduce what is arguably one of the most important medical and scientific advances for the entire world right now: a vaccine for COVID-19.  Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s story is one that hinges on an event that occurred when she was in 3rd grade. Her teacher — a black woman — told her parents that Kizzmekia was smart and that they should make sure she was in the highest academic track available. This was not the norm for black students in this small town in North Carolina.  But her teacher recognized that she was an exceptional student and she told Kizzmekia’s parents to push for high expectations.

They pushed.  She excelled. She went on to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, a primarily white institution which is currently producing the nation’s largest number of African Americans who earn medical and doctoral degrees, including the current Surgeon General of the United States.

Now, as a fellow at the NIH, she is spearheading the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.  Her rapid-response vaccine program has passed phases 1-3 of trials and may be ready for large-scale production as soon as early 2021.

The director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program had this to say about Dr. Corbett:

“When I think about Kizzy, I’m not at all surprised she’s one of the scientists on the edge of a vaccine,” (Keith)Harmon said. “Not one bit. What I am reminded of is that there is such ability, untapped, unrecognized and un-nurtured among students, all our students, particularly among our underrepresented minority students. And if we accept that as normal, you really have to wonder what serious challenges we leave unsolved.”


And though her name is not mentioned in the article, the entire world may one day owe a debt of gratitude to the 3rd grade teacher who recognized the ability, the potential, in that little girl and told her parents to push her as high as she could go.

May we all have the eyes to see greatness in every one of our students and push them to achieve it.

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