Business coalition takes aim at racial education, workforce gaps

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Claire Fiddian-Green

A new report, released Tuesday, says major gaps in education and employment affect the lives of Black Indianapolis residents long-term, but businesses could help improve the situation.

“Not all kids have equal opportunity to access a great education,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and co-chair of the task force behind the report. “Our hope is by sharing this information and the recommendations aligned with it, we can marshal more of our community stakeholders to try to drill down on those root causes and improve outcomes for all kids.”

Business Equity for Indy, a joint initiative from the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and the Indy Chamber, examines large, early racial disparities in academic testing, waiver diplomas (which let students graduate even if they’ve failed mandatory state math and English testing), high school and post-secondary graduation rates, wages and more.

BEI’s Learning and Talent Opportunities Taskforce, which worked on the report, found that problems in the education-to-workforce “pipeline” begin early, with Black and Hispanic/Latino students already behind in math and English proficiency by third grade.

In Marion County, about 7% of Black 3rd-8th-graders passed both parts of ILEARN, compared with 10% of Hispanic/Latino students and 34% of white students, according to the report.

And big drops in the pipeline came in transitions between institutions, such as from elementary to middle school, to high school, and to post-secondary education.

“I need to know that when when [my son is] dropped off at school, that he’s being taught and that his friends are being taught, that his friends—who will end up being really the community that is here, maybe after I’m gone—are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” said Marshawn Wolley, president and CEO of diversity consultancy Black Onyx Management. “That is not happening right now.”

To that end, BEI posits that employers can help. Ascension St. Vincent, Eli Lilly and Co., PNC Bank, Glick Philanthropies and OneAmerica are among the 20-plus members of the Learning and Talent Opportunities Taskforce, for example.

More generally, the report suggests, employers could do comprehensive racial equity audits of their own organizations and address the results, require unconscious bias training and hire local talent. From there, the task force breaks its solutions into three categories:

Improving access to high-quality early-learning programs

Employers could establish an income-based early-earning benefit program, like a Health Savings Account for educational costs. The task force also says this could keep more parents in the workforce full-time by taking care of child care.

Separately, Indiana could create a statewide database of early-education providers, which could be required to participate in Indiana’s Paths to Quality rating system.

Support connections between education and college or careers

Employers could double down on their structured work-based learning programs, which aim to impart career skills or college credits. Interested companies could collaborate with those who’ve already got programs up and running for help.

Separately, employers could provide schools with job descriptions detailing the education and training needed for specific roles.

And Indianapolis, in partnership with the Indiana Department of Education, could establish a county-wide commission to find ways to boost academic proficiency for Black and Hispanic/Latino K-12 public school students.

Boost postsecondary education access and completion rates

Employers could raise awareness of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and state-funded scholarship programs like the 21st Century Scholars.

They could support existing mentorship programs and upskilling programs, and could contribute to employees’ college savings accounts. The task force suggests a state tax credit for companies that make direct contributions.

Supporting learners and employees could make a big dent in quality of life, advocates say.

“My brother and I are first-generation college graduates. My mother was a teen mom … She didn’t graduate from high school, but she valued education,” said Tony Mason, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League.

Mason said that his mother still managed to put his brother through Yale University and Case Western Reserve University, and him through Miami University in Ohio. Mason’s organization facilitated much of the task force’s community engagement work.

“Education is still clearly the pathway out of poverty,” he added. “So there are implications for the data that’s being shared, when you think about multi-generational poverty, [when] we think about Indianapolis and Indiana’s low social mobility rates, and think about people being born in poverty and staying there.”

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8 thoughts on “Business coalition takes aim at racial education, workforce gaps

  1. Until we begin to address the root causes of the disparities, much like we have began to address the Social Determinants of Health, we need to address the Social Determinants of Education. All the studies have shown that the best outcomes for a child is to grow up in a stable two parent home, where the parents are actively involved, not only from an educational stand point but from almost every other measurement as well. The next best thing is to offer school choice where parents can send their child to better schools and schools have to compete for the children through elevating their own performance. The third thing would be to get rid of the Teachers Union, they are not looking our for our children or the quality of education. They have one goal and that is to protect teachers first, second and third. Any thing that begins to measure a teachers competency or performance is quickly slammed and eliminated. The reality is this isn’t a black or white issue it’s a societal issue that refuses to address the cultural and institutional practices and policies that handicap our children from the get go.

  2. Anderson schools have some of the most academically at risk kids in the State. Race only matters to Democrats, but I am confident they have a high ratio of students of color. These students were denied at least a week of school because their Heroes!, I mean, teachers were on an unauthorized strike. Can you ask the “business coalition” if this is a tactic they approve of?

  3. Don B. & Chuck W.
    For once in your life, can you guys try to understand that there is a problem based in our current reality and either suggest how you or your team/tribe can help work the problem – or please stand back and not bring your political agendas to the discussion? Suggesting that a 2-parent household is the answer or a teacher’s strike for fair wages is where the problem is generated, and is where the current solution lies is sad at best, ridiculously condescending, and at worst just another denial of the decades of systemic inequity within our education systems.

    Thanks to all the groups who have joined this effort to generate the report – now let’s get to work on the solutions!

    1. It’s not political agendas, it’s moral and ethical, and to try and dismiss that as a big basis for the disparity then nothing will ever solve the problem. As long as we refuse to address the cultural effects of the gangsta culture, the demeaning lyrics of our women, the glorification of drugs and the constant refrain from leaders that you can’t achieve in America because of your race, your sex, your income level, etc. our kids begin to believe it and give up, and the first place they give up is in schools. We need to empower the parents through school choice, let the money follow the child not automatically go to the school.

    2. We also refuse to equip everyone with proper birth control and the knowledge on using it.

      Less unplanned pregnancies would break the cycle you discuss.

    3. I’d like to see local business groups repeat this program in parts of Indianapolis, since, well, the data shows it works. This is from 2015 and written shortly after the program was scrapped by the GOP, in part because they wanted abstinence-only to be taught.

      “Over the past seven years, Colorado has run an experiment to see if it could lower the rate of unintended pregnancies, cut abortions – and save the state government some money, too.

      The Colorado Family Planning Initiative (CFPI) offered low-income women and teenagers access to low or no-cost contraceptive devices, including IUDs and implants, and trained providers in insertion and counselling techniques. Last year, researchers reported significant drops in the birth rate among teens and young adult women in participating counties. The abortion rate among women between 15 and 19 years old dropped by more than a third; high-risk pregnancies by a fourth.

      In July the governor’s office issued a glowing press release, crediting the program with a 40% statewide drop in teen birth rates between 2009 and 2013 – and a 35% drop in abortions.

      But, despite the program’s widely reported successes, last Wednesday Colorado’s Republican-controlled senate killed a bill that would sustain and expand CFPI services.”