Tag Archives: equity

Diversity: Necessary (But Insufficient)

Our country has a long history of social movements that fight inequity, injustice, and institutionalized oppression and which are led by marginalized or oppressed groups. But the educational equity “movement” is unique in that it has, from the beginning, been led largely by white, economically privileged leaders and funders, while the communities most impacted by educational injustice are largely brown, black, and poor.

The outcomes of this disconnect are approaches, practices, and structures that are not deeply and authentically informed by the communities being served. They often lack sociological and cultural context and relevance. This reinforces power dynamics between school leaders and families, educators and students, and organizational leaders and their key constituencies. And these dynamics perpetuate dominant white culture, practices, and beliefs and maintain the systemic oppression living comfortably and largely untouched at the root of educational inequity.

In recent years, the consciousness about this disconnect has risen in our field, and with that increased awareness has come a desire to change. School leaders have started to shift away from zero-tolerance discipline policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and towards restorative justice approaches. Educators have started to examine pedagogy for cultural relevance. Organizational leaders have started to prioritize diversifying their organizations. Funders have started to see the dramatic lack of ways to track data and metrics related to diversifying school staff, organizational leaders, and volunteer bases and boards.

As more nonprofits, charter schools and networks, and district leaders have come to our Bellwether Talent Advising practice frustrated by lack of progress on their diversity, equity, and inclusion aspirations, we have articulated an approach called the Funnel of Impact. This approach helps organizational leaders to build and run educational equity organizations that are what we call “talent-ready,” organizations that live and act in deep alignment with beliefs around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Continue reading

Agreeing with Trump, Sort of? Political Correctness and Segregation

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a child’s zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of her education. It seems to me this idea should go without saying. But people keep saying it.

The President has said it on numerous occasions. Hillary Clinton has made that point a central part of her K-12 education platform. Even Donald Trump agrees, writing in his most recent book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again”:

Photo by Gage Skidmore

I’m not concerned about the kids growing up in wealthy communities, where high property taxes have allowed them to build great schools, hire the best teachers, and provide all the supplies they need. Those schools are doing fine. In many urban areas, however, schools must fight for every tax dollar and are forced to have teachers and students bring in their own basic supplies such as pencils and paper. That’s a national tragedy.

Why, with so much bipartisan agreement, is so little being done about the fact that a family’s wealth is, in many cases, what determines whether their child gets a good education? Continue reading

What Should An “Empowering Girls of Color” Initiative Look Like?

Improving education for low-performing groups of students shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. DC Public Schools (DCPS) have drawn attention (some of it negative) for their Empowering Males of Color initiative, which includes a new all-boys high school. But girls of color need specialized supports, too, in DCPS and nationwide. The graduation rate for black girls in DCPS is 20 percentage points lower than that of white students.

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Photo by Noah Scialom

What should a high-quality support system for girls of color look like? DCPS shouldn’t open an all-girls high school across the street from the boys’ school and call it a day. Here are some focus areas for DCPS and other school systems to consider:

  • Support girls of color in STEM and CTE. Black girls are less likely to take AP courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, and less likely than white men or white women to graduate college with a degree in a STEM field. In recent NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy results, girls beating boys by three points made headlines, but black and Hispanic girls still lagged behind white boys and girls by 20-30 points. Schools should encourage girls to take advanced courses in STEM subjects and enroll in career and technical education (CTE) programs linked to high-earning careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.
  • Confront racial and gender bias in school discipline. Racial gaps in school discipline impact all students of color, but boys and girls experience it differently. In DC schools (including charter schools) in 2011-12, 13% of black girls received out-of-school suspensions vs. 1% of white girls and 2% of white boys. While good data on discipline causes are scarce, researchers suggest that girls of color are more likely to be punished harshly for minor behavioral issues, such as dress code violations. More data on discipline by race and gender are needed, as are better school policies and resources to show educators how to respond to behavioral challenges fairly.
  • Enhance pregnancy prevention and support for teen parents. Teen pregnancy and parenting are cited as key factors among 38% of black girls and 36% of Hispanic girls who leave school. In DC, efforts to reduce teen pregnancy have been very successful, and the number of teen births fell by 20% from 2009 to 2012. DC is already doing more than many jurisdictions to prevent pregnancy and keep teen parents in schools: comprehensive sex education is the norm, condoms are available in all high schools from the school nurse and student volunteers, educational programs aimed at supporting teen parents are available in DCPS high schools, and the DC Department of Human Services sponsors pregnancy prevention education in afterschool programs.
  • Acknowledge other family responsibilities. Girls are more likely than boys to be responsible for caring for younger siblings or other family members. This kind of care is not as well-documented as teen pregnancy, but it can be just as stressful. DC has the most expensive childcare in the country, and struggling working parents have to rely more on informal care, like teen sisters. Policymakers should expand the availability of high-quality affordable child care, and school leaders should allow for more flexible attendance/scheduling policies, transportation assistance, and other educational supports for girls who need to get their siblings to school or help siblings with homework.
  • Target bullying and sexual harassment that disproportionately affects girls. Girls cannot learn successfully if they feel unsafe. A national survey by AAUW found that 56% of girls in grades 7-12 experienced some kind of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year. And girls from low-income families were more likely to stay home from school in response to harassment. Girls also experience bullying in ways that may be less visible: girls are more likely to be the victims of cyber-bullying and relational bullying (where someone is ostracized or gossiped about, rather than being directly confronted). School policies on bullying and sexual harassment should address these different experiences, and educators should be trained to recognize signs of distress and trauma in girls.
  • Break out the data. One of the most basic things all states can do is publish easily accessible “cross-tabs” of key achievement metrics, so communities can see how boys and girls are performing across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Separate data on gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity tend to be more accessible, but going deeper, to look at black students by gender or gender groups broken out by socioeconomic status, is not common or consistent even though state data systems would support it.

Schools should intervene to help students who are struggling most, and in most school systems, that means supporting boys of color; initiatives like Empowering Males of Color could be a good start. But girls of color need unique supports, too. If schools go the route of gender-differentiated strategies to close racial achievement gaps, they should articulate plans for both boys and girls. This is not a meaningless gesture to give the appearance of fairness, it’s about recognizing that intersections of race and gender and lots of other factors can affect students in different ways and demanding strategies that are responsive to students’ experiences. This can have real positive effects on student learning — just don’t leave girls out of the picture.

Really NYT? Harmful Stereotypes About Women and Math?

Hidden Figures

Image from “Hidden Figures” – from empireonline.com

I’m not a big movie buff, but I’ve been fascinated by Hidden Figuresthe forthcoming film about the largely unknown African-American women mathematicians and engineers whose calculations were crucial to enabling the Apollo moon missions. Their contributions are particularly monumental since they came at a time when segregation and racism constrained educational and professional opportunities for so many black Americans. So I was excited to read this weeks’ New York Times profile of the movie.

That said, I couldn’t help being put off by how the article reported on the math aversion of the film’s leads. The opening sentence reads:

Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.

The article continues to reference Henson’s and Spencer’s discomfort with math as if it’s slightly endearing, without ever questioning the educational and life experiences that might have led these two highly accomplished women to hate math.

Why is it acceptable and cute for grown adults to say they’re not comfortable with math? Why do we treat discomfort with math as something to be taken for granted rather than the result of our education system’s long-running failure to teach math effectively, combined with low expectations for women, girls, and students from historically underserved racial/ethnic groups and low-income families? Continue reading

Teachers Union Leaders Support Equity (in Theory) Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things In Education

How should public policies address inequities across schools and districts? American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten says we hold schools accountable for how much money they have and the types of programs they build with that money. Testifying before the Senate in February, she articulated her vision for accountability systems:

Accountability systems should measure and reflect this broader vision of learning by using a framework of indicators for school success centered on academic outcomes, opportunity to learn, and engagement and support. For example, the AFT recommends academic outcomes measured by assessments, progress toward graduation, and career and college readiness. Opportunity-to-learn indicators should include curriculum access and participation, sufficient resources, and measures of school climate.

Yesterday Weingarten testified again in front of the Senate, this time against a proposed rule that would address funding disparities within districts. The proposed rule, called “supplement not supplant,” would require districts to spend at least as much money on poor students as they do on non-poor students. (For more on the proposed rule and the politics behind it, read this Kevin Carey primer.) Weingarten spoke out against the rule in a piece last month, writing:

ESSA specifically outlines the difference in spending between schools that receive federal Title I funds — schools with high concentrations of students in poverty — and those that don’t. But when it comes to equitable spending, you don’t want to insist on a dollar-for-dollar comparison.

Taken together, Weingarten is arguing we should hold schools accountable for resource equity, but not actually take any steps to alleviate funding inequities within a district.

Weingarten is not alone in this position. Here’s National Education Association President Lily Eskelson Garcia speaking to NPR about her vision for accountability:

But we also pushed on. … You left out of this thing called accountability that the politicians should be held accountable for actually giving an educator what he or she needs to do his or her job.

That was what 1965 and [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] was all about. It was an acknowledgement that states weren’t doing a very good job on equal opportunity. The extra resources have been left out of the whole accountability debate….

On this dashboard, we want you to have to measure service and supports.

Who has access to that AP class and who doesn’t even have access to recess?

Who’s got a school nurse? Where are the services and the broad range of programs that a child should have, like the arts, like foreign languages?

How would a school purchase all these services, supports, AP programs, nurses, etc.? Goods and services costs money, but, like Weingarten, Garcia doesn’t want to address within-district disparities either. Education Week live-tweeted Garcia’s testimony at the same Senate hearing yesterday:

 

The distinction that Weingarten and Garcia are making, but that they’re unable to say publicly, is that they support equitable funding across districts but not within them. These are separate issues, but they both contribute to school funding disparities.

As progressives, it makes sense that union leaders would support equity in general, but there’s no good reason for why that moral impulse should stop at school district borders. Instead, this seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that fixing within-district disparities would inevitably touch on issues of teacher compensation and teacher placement that are under the purview of locally negotiated teacher labor contracts. Districts could address within-district inequities in lots of ways — they could offer higher salaries to teachers in poorer schools, they could have lower class sizes in poorer schools, or they could expand other services within poorer schools — but local teachers’ union contracts often prohibit all of these policy options.

Contrary to what Weingarten and Garcia prefer, equity is a better fit for funding conversations than it is in the accountability space. Equity is fundamentally about fairness and resources, and it should be a funding decision, not something we hold individual schools accountable for. Providing additional resources to lower-income schools would help compensate for their greater disadvantages, and we should allow local communities to decide how best to allocate those resources while holding them accountable for their results. In contrast, placing equity into the accountability context would put state policymakers in the role of telling districts or schools how to spend their money, forcing all schools to spend the same amount of money on the same things.

Moreover, a school  would be the wrong entity to hold accountable for resources. A school’s resources — everything from teacher salaries to curriculum to non-academic support programs — affect the quality of education it’s able to deliver, but schools have no power to tax residents, and things like teacher salaries and teacher placement policies are determined at the district level. It might be important to consider how well a given school is performing with its level of resources, but it wouldn’t make sense, for example, to hold a school principal accountable for something he or she can’t control. States and districts are responsible for funding and resources, so those are the places we should be looking to address inequity.