Education technology is marginalizing under-served, minority children, Kalimah Priforce writes.
A maelstrom of debates about race, diversity, and inclusion in Silicon Valley has opened up in the wake of CNN’s latest chapter in the Black in America documentary series: the NewME Accelerator for minority-led startups. Thus far, several members of the tech investment community have blogged about the issue of what it is to be “Building While Brown” in Silicon Valley. Tech mavens like Michael Arrington, Mitch Kapor, and Brad Feld discussed the funding of minority-led startups from an investor’s viewpoint. Vivek Wadhwa (Diversity, cultural networks power innovation), Anil Dash, Violet Blue (Silicon Valley’s Race Problem) and others have also chimed in on notion that many investors, mostly wealthy white men, believe that there is zero race or sex bias in Silicon Valley.
But that’s a problem. NOT focusing on race or sex just exacerbates social inequities.
Recently, I was in San Francisco to attend the Summit for Courageous Conversation put together by Glenn Singleton and the Pacific Educational Group. This conference focused on going beyond diversity to address the system of education inequity, particularly around race. Interestingly enough, there were no panel discussions at the Summit concerning edtech (education technology) and I was probably the only edupreneur (education entrepreneur) in attendance.
Although tech wasn’t mentioned, California was brought up a lot. To understand the history of social inequity in education is to accept that Silicon Valley isn’t in Atlantis. Silicon Valley is in California, the state that brought America Reagonomics:
Back in the 1960’s, when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were starting elementary school, California classrooms were still ranked nationally among the best. Then, along came Proposition 13, which cut state financing of public schools by two-thirds almost overnight. California is now ranked 48th nationally.
Proposition 209, passed in California in 1996 and amended the state constitution from considering race, sex, or ethnicity under any circumstances.
Moreover, Prop 209 didn’t just cut off state funding to programs that promoted diversity in schools and the workplace; it also eliminated support for any publicly-funded data collection to be used that would include demographic information such as race, sex, and ethnicity. (Healthcare managed to get a slight exception because of pressing health issues specific to minority communities.)
Want to know how to improve conditions for black and brown kids in school? Don’t count on any state aid. Want to help girls pursue careers in science? The state government won’t help, and you can possibly be sued by Anti-Affirmative Action proponents for violating public policy.
Palo Alto’s neighbor to the east, East Palo Alto, remains one of the nation’s biggest ghettos (the movie “Dangerous Minds” was based in East Palo Alto). Thanks to the research of Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade (one of the keynote speakers at the Summit for Courageous Conversation), I learned that in the last five years, over 1,000 murders occurred in specific areas of Oakland that don’t include the predominantly white upper-middle class “Piedmont” (go to here and check out the area of Piedmont), a township within a town—another example of poverty in the face of extreme wealth.
California is stuck in a rut, failing to create a more equitable education system. And in the process, we are failing all our kids. Silicon Valley, however, has the power to disrupt education. But to do this, Silicon Valley needs to stop clinging to the absurdity of meritocracy and start building on the idea of equity.
There are edtech products that can close equity gaps, and then there is edtech itself, which can widen those gaps. Equity-focused edupreneurs want to build technology products that (1) raise the achievement of all students while (2) narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing students and (3) eliminate those predictable factors (i.e. race, sex, income, geography) from getting stuck in the lowest achievement categories (Singleton and Linton 2005).
The last Startup Weekend SFEDU was the most diverse startup weekend I had ever seen, but still, very little emphasis was placed on products that, for example, (1) achieve racial equity in the classroom, (2) close the gender gap in under-represented fields, (3) increase accessibility for differently-abled students, (4) lowering education costs for students, (5) strengthening communities for schools, (6) mentorship, and so on.
According to a recent EdSurge newsletter, Newark mayor Cory Booker, and LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, spent an evening listening and questioning Imagine K12 startups on whether their startups were actually a technology-in-demand such as increasing teacher effectiveness, reducing costs, providing personalized learning, or teaching kids to set goals. They also focused their questions on low income students, and where their betas were being trialed. A child’s zipcode should never determine their educational destiny.
Most edtech startups aren’t looking to close equity gaps in education. A few may have started with an equity focus, but from what I’ve learned, they were encouraged by the Silicon Valley investment community to pivot away from solving big problems, and instead to build products that directly benefit private school students, higher-income bracket learners, and that maybe, just maybe, the technology will “trickle down” to the lesser privileged. Anyone else notice a theme here?
On the recently produced edtech map by the New School Venture Fund, many of these technologies-in-demand aren’t presented:
Being an equity-focused entrepreneur means believing that the world can change. Being an equity edupreneur is knowing that change starts in the classroom, not just in the home. When Silicon Valley embraces race, sex, and the experiences of others as vehicles for change, we’ll move toward creating a more equitable, anti-racist tech ecosystem, not just for this generation, but for the next wave of innovators.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be profiling several equity edupreneurs making a difference in tech and in the classroom. So will the real equity edupreneurs please stand up? It’s long overdue and our kids need you.