A Black Mom’s Lament: How Can We Parents Stop Schools From Failing Our Kids?

By Kia Morgan Smith

Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up and ask why and walk out of my kids’ school with them in tow.

The work is not challenging, some of the teachers are uncaring and my kids are learning nothing more than how to answer test questions. I want them to be able to analyze, think deeply and be encouraged to be inquisitive. Shut up and sit down, should not be the vocabulary of the day. And insensitive test questions that reference counting how many slaves would get beat shows there’s a lack of cultural empathy and understanding.

But I’ve come to realize the sad reality that if you don’t have the dough to put your kids in a high-priced private school, then you probably have to settle for a half-baked public school education with a watered-down curriculum. See, the problem is that your child might get a good first-grade teacher, but then their burned-out second grade teacher with all of her mandates on test-taking and meeting AYP, will probably suck. Then the third grade teacher might be an OK educator fresh out the box, having recently graduated and all happy-go-lucky, but by the time Thanksgiving rolls around she’s done had it up to here being a teacher, counselor, referee and commander, and is calling out every other day—and the substitute who takes her place doesn’t really give a good hoot.

And even if your kid survives getting a so-so teacher, parents in Atlanta have come to learn that many teachers are so pressured to have their kids pass state tests that they changed test answers because their principals said to do so. The end result of all of this is just downright ugly and unfair to students. So we parents are put back at square one looking for reliable answers and alternatives for our kids’ education.

See, I know all of this to be fact because I’ve been the burned out classroom teacher and even the tired substitute. I’ve been the educator who has given my all, blood sweat and tears to make sure my students got the very best education I could, stayed up late planning and putting together top-notch lesson plans, going the extra mile doing what I could to make sure no child was left behind, only to get brow beat by hot-headed parents and bungling administrators who were leading the school on a destructive path.

I’ve been on both sides. I’ve since stopped teaching school but returned recently to my kids’ school to substitute when I have the time. The fact is that I did LOVE teaching and was great at it. But that same love and affection that I had for education is somehow lost among teachers. And as parents, we too are lost and at a crossroads.

At least I am.

As we speak, I have already submitted three applications to a local Catholic school for the Fall for my three elementary aged girls. I’m looking for help and change with hopes that a Catholic school will give them more time and attention and challenges where their public school has fallen short.

But this Saturday, I may feel differently about this decision, knowing that Tavis Smiley has stepped up to school parents and help arm us with knowledge to keep our kids from falling through the educational cracks.

Smiley is hosting the Too Important to Fail: Saving America’s Children Education Summit at Spelman College. Smiley believes that together we can find solutions to issues like how to make sure academic and cultural needs of black students are met, how to prevent absenteeism among black males, what can be done to impact learning before age 5 and, most importantly,  how we parents can make a difference.

This type of summit is extremely important because I believe most teachers have fallen short; their expectations are low. Many teachers do not expect that their African American students will enter the door on grade level, ready to learn and therefore they do not set the bar high enough for them. Too many go to work, do what’s required and leave. But what they fail to realize is that these students will rise to the occasion if someone takes the time to spark their interest, sprinkle in some compassion with a healthy dose of knowledge and endeavor to understand the underlying problems that keep black students from becoming high-achievers.

So at the summit Smiley has set up various sessions that parents can choose from to get to the root of some persistent classroom problems.

I will embrace this opportunity to learn about how my child can succeed in school. And I have no issue becoming a student once again just so I can make a difference in my children’s future. Maybe this summit will be the catalyst that will inspire me to keep my kids in public school this fall once I learn some best practices. We’ll see.

In any event, Smiley’s summit definitely sounds like a blueprint to help carve out a plan to work hand-in-hand with my child’s teacher. Because when everyone’s got their hand in the pot and helps stir the soup to perfection, then nothing and no one gets burned. And knowing that is definitely worth me sitting in a seminar this Saturday.  And I hope you attend too.

Tavis Smiley Foundation Presents: Too Important to Fail Parent Education Summit
Date  Saturday, February 25, 2012
Time 09:00 am EST to 03:00 pm EST
Where  Spelman College
Room: Camille Cosby Academic Center
350 Spelman Lane SW
Atlanta, GA 30314

To register for the summit, which is FREE and includes lunch, click here.



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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. BRAVO!!!

    I am at a loss of what to do as well. However, my situation is slightly diff. – I have my older two kids at a Catholic school, actually since pre-k, until now, 6 and 5th grade. My youngest who is 4 will be starting at a public school in the fall b/c we just can’t afford 3 kids at Catholic school; but more so, b/c we had her tested for gifted and she passed, thus in my district they place gifted kids into failing schools (self-contained gifted though). To me it is azz backwards to place good kids at a school that isn’t good (environmental), just so that those schools can at least get a D or C school performance score. The school has a black principal, like many, that apparently don’t care. If they do, this wouldn’t be happening. I know there are the factors of the parents not doing their part, and that is sad too.

    I sometimes wish I were a school official and turn these things around, b/c it affects everyone and the state and nation as a whole to have under-educated population.

    • Kia Morgan Smith

      Thanks Angela for sharing your sentiments.
      That’s crazy that gifted children ould be placed in a failing school and yes it is backwards for sure. I feel just like you do. I’ve seen principals bring their school down by the decisions they made and felt like if only I could be in that position I’d turn the tide and make a difference. And it’s a shame you have to take your kids out of Catholic school. My husband and I are trying to get our kids in one, but based on how much financial aid they will receive, we won’t know if we can afford it frankly. Parents should not be in this position and there’s got to be a better way for all of our kids to get a decent education – in AMERICA at that! Thanks.

  2. I wish there was a summit like that here in NY. I would love to attend one. my daughter is going to be attending kindergarten in september and i want her to have a really good start. Im going to apply for her to attend charte school which i heard had a better degree of learning.

  3. What a well written article and rings true out here in Los Angeles too. Something has to change and it’s exciting to see Tavis Smiley stepping up.

  4. I have been a public school teacher for many years in a low socioeconomic area, and I am highly insulted that the writer said our ” public school system is half baked with a watered down curriculum.” All the teachers I know are devoted to challenging our students and helping them rise to the occasion–all students whether white, black, or purple for that matter. Where is the mention of parental support? Why does it ALWAYS fall back on the teacher? We can do our very best in the classroom, but still get blamed for the problems of the world.

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