When the US education system was created more than 150 years ago, fewer career paths required college degrees, the student population was far less diverse, and antiquated and destructive ideas about race, gender and disability influenced perceptions of whether a student could succeed. The system was built to direct a few students (typically those who were white, male and middle-class) toward rigorous learning experiences and therefore careers that sustained their privilege, while providing a basic education to the rest. This legacy still undergirds our education system today and, as a result, race and class remain the most reliable predictors of students’ academic achievements – even as our schools and nation become more diverse.

For decades, philanthropic efforts to reform public education in the United States have focused on making students and teachers fit into the existing structure, rather than examining the whole system to understand why it was not producing the outcomes we want to see. That’s in part because philanthropy in the US is white-dominant, and the ways many philanthropists perceive the system have been shaped by our own experiences of it.

As a child, I was taught it was impolite to acknowledge racial differences. To be racially ‘colour-blind’ was considered a virtue and I’m sure that’s true for many well-meaning white people of my generation. As I grew older, I came to realise how insidious the concept of colour-blindness could be and that ignoring the way racism shapes the social problems we grapple with doesn’t make them go away – it just makes the solutions we attempt to implement less effective.

Policymakers and philanthropists often take a colour-blind approach to education, calling for policies they believe will support ‘all’ children, but suggesting all children have the same shot at opportunity is not borne out by the facts. Black students are 13 per cent less likely to graduate high school than their white peers, and black youth represent nearly one-third of all homeless youth – more than double the proportion of black youth to the overall population. This isn’t a coincidence.

Read the full article about color-blindness by Jeff Raikes at Alliance For Philanthropic and Social Investment Worldwide.