Amid the country's ongoing debate over whether or not students should learn about race and systemic racism in public schools, a new survey of Black voters in New York City finds overwhelming support for a Black Studies curriculum in the city’s public schools.

The teaching of a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade Black Studies curriculum garnered a 92 percent approval rating in survey findings, titled The Black Studies Curriculum: An Educational Necessity for New York City Public Schools, recently released by TC’s Black Education Research Center (BERC).

A significant majority — 72 percent — moreover voiced support for prioritizing Black studies as a means to improve the education delivered to students in the nation’s largest public school system.

“Black voters’ voices are often underrepresented when it comes to discussing ways to improve our education curriculum and system,” said BERC Founding Director Sonya Douglass, Professor of Education Leadership. “There has been a lot of interest nationally in Black studies and ethnic studies, and in the midst of these conversations and debates around what should be taught in schools, I believe it is important that Black voices are a part of this conversation.”

Sonya Douglass, Professor of Education Leadership and Director of the Black Education Research Collective, at the fall 2021 announcement of the Education Equity Action Plan. (Photo: Steve Mau) 

The study was conducted with funding from a $3.25 million, one-year grant from the New York City Council to support BERC’s creation of an interdisciplinary Black studies curriculum and professional development program for teachers in New York City’s public schools. The NYC Council has since allocated an additional $3.4 million in the City’s Fiscal 2023 Budget to continue this groundbreaking work as part of the development of an Education Equity Action Plan (EEAP) to create and implement an interdisciplinary, Pre-K-12 Black Studies Curriculum that acknowledges the history and contributions of Black people, beginning before slavery and continuing through the present.

“The data shows that many people in our city feel strongly about incorporating Black studies into PK-12 school curriculum and policy makers are eager to support this effort,” Douglass also said.

The phone survey of 705 Black New York City voters was conducted by brilliant corners Research & Strategies, and led by national pollster Cornell Belcher.

Survey respondents were near unanimous (97 percent) in their approval of incorporating racism into Black studies lesson plans. Another 87 percent believe it is important for students to learn and understand white supremacy.

Support for including critical race theory in curriculum stood at 48 percent, with 33 percent of the participants expressing strong support, 15 percent being somewhat supporting and 43 percent telling surveyors they were undecided on the issue.

The surveyed voters furthermore emphasized that the Civil Rights era should take precedence over lessons about other historic periods in Black history.

In a panel hosted by TC’s Black Education Research Collective, Douglass joined Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. and Chancellor David C. Banks to discuss educational equity in New York in January 2022. Learn more. 

The recent survey supports findings of a 2021 BERC study that found that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a further setback to education in Black communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taken together, the two studies create a road map for what Black New York City education stakeholders and voters believe New York City public schools need to do to meet the physical, mental and social needs of Black students, families, and communities and to redress decades of racist policies in schools.

BERC is a founding member of EEAP, a coalition of United Way of New York City (UWNYC), the Eagle Academy Foundation (EAF), Black Edfluencers United (BE-U), the Association of Black Educators of New York (ABENY), and the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC), collaborating to develop and implement the Black studies curriculum. In partnership with the New York City Department of Education, the curriculum is scheduled to begin a pilot project in public schools beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Read more about the study here.