Tag Archives: Diversity

How Much Do You Know About Rural Education? Part 3: Amplifying Students of Color in Rural America

Photo courtesy of Mary Taylor for Pexels

Dr. Jared Bigham offers a four-part series for Ahead of the Heard that amplifies issues facing rural school districts, students, and communities. He will highlight key challenges, explore innovative partnerships, and dispel rural myths along the way. Read more posts in this series here and here.

Most people’s perception of what constitutes “rural” is based largely on their own geographic location and experiences. If asked what rural education looks like, you’ll often get answers ranging from “Hoosiers” to “Friday Night Lights” to “Remember the Titans”. These are geography- or popular culture-oriented responses, but perceptions of place tend to frame perceptions of people and, more specifically, stereotypes of people.  

Geographic stereotypes do (sometimes unfairly) impact much of our thinking. This certainly holds true for many people’s perceived stereotypical “rural student.” By and large in my experience, people tend to think of rural students as low-income, white kids. So it may come as a surprise to learn that approximately one quarter of rural students are students of color. As of 2017, the rural population breakdown for people of color is 9% Hispanic, 8% Black, 2% American Indian, and 2% identifying as non-white Other. And in the South, 80% of rural African Americans in the U.S. live in the Black Belt, which comprises 623 counties across 11 Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. 

Rural students from low-income backgrounds face myriad challenges. However, imagine an additional layer of stigmas, stereotypes, and obstacles associated with being a rural student of color. Add to that stereotypes that rural students are somehow inherently behind academically due to the lower-than-average number of residents with postsecondary degrees.  

Despite these pervading stereotypes of rural students, there are amazing examples of collaborative efforts between schools, industry, and postsecondary institutions that are leveraging advances in technology to support rural students of color in overcoming barriers to success in the workforce after high school. 

Take, for example, Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama (population just under 20,000), where a partnership was created with Lockheed Martin for students to begin a pathway that leads to a career after graduation. The majority of the population at Charles Henderson are students of color, with more than half the student body qualifying for free and reduced-price meals. Leveraging technology through TRANSFR VR, a company that specializes in virtual reality training and career exploration, and the partnership with Lockheed Martin, students receive invaluable instruction that would be a challenge under the logistical and financial constraints of a typical high school schedule. Often, it’s a heavy lift for rural school districts to employ an instructor that specializes in industrial careers, and it’s often impossible to afford the commercial equipment needed to teach students. However, by using virtual reality technology and innovative partnerships, Charles Henderson students have access to instruction that would otherwise be out of reach.

To me, the magic in this collaboration are the high expectations set for all of these students. There is no defaulting to stereotypes; there is no acquiescing to statistics; there is no settling for an employment ceiling, which is just a job. Adam Carson, business operations manager at Lockheed Martin emphasizes that this isn’t just about giving students a job. It’s about giving students access to a career, which is the employment floor and place to begin to professionally rise. “It’s a good investment because it meets the needs of the community, and it meets the needs of Lockheed Martin,” according to Carson. 

Another important piece of the Troy-based partnership strategy: the innovation taking place at this school isn’t just for innovation’s sake, and it isn’t a tokenizing campaign to help “poor, helpless Black and Hispanic students.” There’s nothing more degrading we can do in our efforts to support rural students of color than to create benevolent, paternalistic partnerships to “save” them. It’s an affront to students’ dignity, and it feeds into those layered stereotypes. High expectations and working outside the norm of traditional K-12 education models are the most effective ways to overcome the traditional stereotypes of the rural student — stereotypes which in most cases don’t even include students of color.

Dr. Gerri Maxwell, chair of Educational Leadership at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, focuses her work on supporting students of color in rural schools. Maxwell has conducted a great deal of research on the application of systemic strategies in two areas: 1) the benefits of after-school programs for rural students of color with low-income backgrounds, and 2) creating capacity for social justice leadership in rural K-12 schools.  

Maxwell said that students of color in rural communities face challenges that mirror those that students of color in urban areas face. The catch? Rural students experience an additional challenge of geographic isolation. This isolation hampers access to wraparound supports, which is one of the reasons Maxwell has spent a good portion of her career facilitating grant resources to rural communities and researching impact. “You have to be a forceful change agent sometimes to push for support that has been lacking for many of these students,” she said.  

Until students of color are more readily seen as part of the rural narrative, we’re missing a huge opportunity to understand and truly support all rural students.

Dr. Jared Bigham is a fourth-generation rural educator. He serves as senior advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, is board chair of the Tennessee Rural Education Association, and is active in the National Rural Education Association. He is the proud husband to an assistant principal and father of four children.

From Pandemic to Progress: Eight Bellwether briefs set long-term visions for education policy and practice

Today, we and several of our Bellwether colleagues released From Pandemic to Progress: Eight Education Pathways for COVID-19 Recovery, making the case for the the education sector to recenter and rebuild after the disruptions caused by COVID-19. At some point — hopefully soon — vaccines will become broadly available and students and teachers everywhere will return to full-time, in-person learning. School, system, and sector leaders will pause and take a breath. Then they quickly will turn their attention back to many of the questions that have simmered in the background for the past year, but that are quickly coming back to a boil.

In the wake of COVID-19, leaders and policymakers will need ambitious but achievable pathways to re-engage in complex policy questions and rebuild education. From Pandemic to Progress draws on the breadth of Bellwether’s expertise and a diversity of viewpoints across our team in a series of briefs — each with a take on what we will need in the years ahead to create a sector that can provide students with the high-quality education and supports they need and deserve to be successful.

Here are the issues and areas where we believe the sector should not go back to normal:

Redesigning Accountability: Bonnie O’Keefe grounds the debates on assessment and accountability back in core principles and practicalities. She doubles down on the need for transparent data and subgroup reporting, but also challenges policymakers to create systems that are aligned to the realities of classroom instruction and school-based decision making.

Supporting a Diverse Choice Ecosystem From the Bottom Up: Alex Spurrier lays out a vision for fostering choice and enabling a diversity of educational approaches, by seeding consortia of assessments, similar to Advanced Placement, that ensure the quality but not the homogeneity of options.

Prioritizing Equity in School Funding: Jennifer O’Neal Schiess pinpoints the inequities in school funding and explains why it should be decoupled from the real estate market, with local property taxes playing a minimal or vastly different role in the funding of schools.

Establishing Coherent Systems for Vulnerable Students: Hailly T.N. Korman and Melissa Steel King stay laser-focused on students who have experienced homelessness, foster care, pregnancy, or other disruptions to their education and call on public agencies to address the confusing fragmentation of social services so students can receive comprehensive and streamlined support.

Creating an Institute for Education Improvement: Allison Crean Davis makes a case for changing the way we change, calling for a standalone entity that can champion and support the education sector in rigorous, data-driven approaches to continuous improvement.

Diversifying the Teacher Workforce: Indira Dammu reminds us of the research that links a diverse teacher workforce to improved student outcomes, and makes recommendations for how policymakers can support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color.

Building on the Charter Sector’s Many Paths to Impact: Juliet Squire acknowledges headwinds facing charter school growth, but reminds policymakers and practitioners of the many ways — beyond increasing enrollment — that charter schools can expand their impact.

Bringing Home-Based Child Care Providers Into the Fold: Ashley LiBetti shines a spotlight on the critical role that home-based child care providers play in caring for the country’s youngest children, a role that the pandemic further dramatized; she makes the case for policies that address the important role that home-based child care plays in the early childhood ecosystem.

Whether addressing a long-standing issue that has shaped the education reform debates for decades, or an issue that has yet to garner the attention it deserves, each brief lays out a long-term vision for success and pathways to get there.

The education sector is far too familiar with the cycle of faddish policies and knee-jerk reactions when reforms don’t immediately produce increases in student proficiency. And certainly the last year has rightfully concentrated attention and resources on addressing the most urgent and basic student needs. But when the crisis subsides, education policymakers and practitioners will need a point on the horizon to aim for. We hope these briefs inspire and inform long-term visions for serving America’s kids.

 

 

Media: “One HBCU and One Black-Led Charter School Team Up to Ensure Success for Rural Students of Color” in EdPost

My colleagues and I recently conducted in-depth case studies of four rural charter schools that outperform state and district averages in reading and math. We then published those case studies, and the lessons they surfaced, in a new website: ruralcharterschools.org.

Today, I have a new piece out in Education Post that profiles one school we visited, Crossroad Academy Charter School in Gadsden County, Florida. The piece explores the unique relationship between Crossroad Academy and a local HBCU, and explains how Crossroad students benefit from that relationship:

When Crossroad’s leader Kevin Forehand, an alum of Florida A&M and Gadsden County native, began his tenure as principal, the school’s student body was growing rapidly. As a result, the school needed a larger teaching force. Mr. Forehand recognized the importance of recruiting and hiring young, ambitious Black talent to teach at his school, and later developed a mentorship program between his alma mater and Crossroad Academy. Through this partnership, university staff and students help Crossroad high school students prepare for the college application process and review their application materials. In return, all Crossroad seniors apply to Florida A&M to ensure that they have at least one high-quality postsecondary option.

Read the full piece at Education Post and learn more about other high-quality rural charter schools at ruralcharterschools.org.

Media: “To Promote Teacher Diversity, Ed Schools Must Look Beyond GPA & Test Scores. Here’s How Howard University Does it” in The 74 Million

Despite the urgent need to diversify the educator workforce, schools of education often struggle to recruit and graduate teachers of color. Part of the problem is that these schools tend to overvalue traditional metrics, such as grade point average (GPA) and performance on standardized tests like the SAT. In general, these measures are not strong indicators of who will be successful in the classroom or who will be a high-quality teacher. Moreover, setting minimum GPA and SAT scores for admissions can block many potential teachers of color.

Dr. Lisa Grillo, an Associate Professor at Howard University, and I wrote about this in The 74 Million:

Candidates’ GPAs, SAT scores and similar measures often are markers solely of the quality of their K-12 education and socioeconomic status. Indeed, they are themselves artifacts of a historically unjust and inequitable society. These seemingly objective measures are actually not that objective at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Howard University, for example, approaches teacher candidate section more comprehensively:

Candidates submit a detailed statement of interest that allows faculty to understand the compatibility between their desire for seeking the teaching degree at Howard and the social-justice orientation of the university’s programs. A panel interview then provides candidates with the opportunity to express themselves orally. Conversations between candidates and faculty provide valuable insight into candidates’ motivations, commitment, family background and educational experiences. They also allow faculty to establish personal connections with them before admitted. Faculty also solicit specific input from candidates’ academic advisers — from another school or college within the university — regarding their dispositions. Advisers are asked to reflect upon candidates’ integrity, emotional stability, promise toward professional growth and interest in teaching.

Read our full piece here.

Media: “This County Made History and Elected Its First School Board Member of Color” in Education Post

Gwinnett County, the second most populous county in the state of Georgia, recently made history when it elected its youngest and first school board member of color in 2018. Gwinnett has a diverse student population, and more than 50 percent of students are students of color. Why has that level of diversity not been reflected in the local school board?

I wrote about this in Education Post:

Gwinnett County is not alone. A 2018 study by the National School Boards Association found that across the country, 78 percent of board members are White, while only 10 percent are Black, and 3 percent are Hispanic. These numbers are truly stunning and reveal that school boards do not reflect the growing diversity of the nation’s K-12 student population.

School board diversity is important because it allows more voices at the table to inform critical decisions about education policy and practice. All students can benefit when school boards represent the racial, economic, and gender diversity of the students they serve. Read my piece here.