Category: Equity

65 Years On: A Reflection on Brown v. Board and Educational Equity

May 17, 2019 by

Supreme Court Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post originally appeared on the iNACOL blog on May 16, 2019.

“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.” – Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Today marks 65 years since the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the seminal civil rights ruling outlawing school segregation.

Since the ruling, American public school systems have wrestled with how to ensure equality for students regardless of race or background. However, equality cannot be achieved when the structures and systems were designed to disadvantage students of color. It is not enough to allow access to our public schools; we must question whether the opportunities, supports, and resources provided to students are what they need and set them up for success. Today we need to ask ourselves how are we creating equitable learning environments where all students can succeed.

Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently. – Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor, UCLA and Columbia Law School

Despite dramatic improvements in education over the last century, the one-size-fits-all, delivery-of-curriculum, time-based system simply doesn’t work as well as needed. In fact, the traditional system was designed to rank and sort students through a combination of practices that bolster or reduce grades based on behavior and tracking systems that set different expectations for students, often based on their income or race. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, African American students are disproportionately affected by school discipline policies. We must be mindful that the policies and practices that implicate students of color during their K-12 education can either set them up for future success or expose them to further discrimination and injustice. We cannot move forward as a nation until we address the implicit biases that impact our students of color in their educational settings.

According to a recent report from iNACOL’s CompetencyWorks initiative, In Pursuit of Equality: Equity Strategies in Competency-Based Education:

“The vision for educational equality is a thriving, fair, and just system. In order to realize educational equality, we must openly acknowledge and then overcome the history of bigotry, discrimination, and oppression that has shaped communities and institutions, including our K-12 education system, and sadly continues to do so today. For three centuries, barriers have been busted one by one to increase access and quality of education for more students in pursuit of the American ideal of equality. Yet, much work is still to be done. Over the past twenty years, a new understanding of what we envision for a fair and equal education system has developed: our focus has shifted from thinking about equality in terms of equal or same – having the same inputs, having the same path, the same age children taking the same test on the same day – to providing students with what they need to succeed. Educational equality promises that every student will reach their potential. Such an educational system requires personalization, high quality, and strong equity strategies – those strategies necessary to ensure that all students, including those who have been historically underserved, fully benefit from the educational system. Equity assumes the same high outcomes for all students, an expectation that is now captured in the phrase ‘prepared for college and careers.’ ”

Equitable practices emphasize providing students with the necessary resources and supports that are individualized – even if that means giving more to some students than others. It is important to note the difference between equality and equity, as equity is grounded in fairness. Considering the historical implications of education as noted above, students of color have been disproportionately disadvantaged for generations. As a result, there is not a level playing field or a similar starting point as their peers who are in an affluent community or school district, so it is important to place a great deal of focus on improving their education.

Personalized, competency-based education offers a system that is designed to allow each student, despite their ethnic or socioeconomic background, to succeed. Moving away from the one-size-fits-all traditional model, students are met where they are, and education has a greater focus on whole-child success. School culture is more strategic in implementation, teachers are prepared to reflect the learning environment and the students they teach, and most of all, students are given the agency that fosters success beyond the classroom.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision was a monumental turning point that changed the educational trajectory for millions of U.S. students over the past 65 years. However, the work does not stop there. It is up to catalysts in the field of education transformation to continue to push for an education system that is not only equal, but equitable. Schools and districts are in need of state and federal laws that can continue to support their efforts of improvement, and parents and teachers need the support of the local community. This is the work of a village, and while we have seen drastic advancements, the fight continues day-by-day, for every single student. For example, under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states can take advantage of opportunities to advance equity through:

“We must merge our traditional sense of schooling with the real world. What we do in school must not insult the child’s past but must build upon his past and encourage future learning.” – Sigmund Boloz, senior lecturer, Northern Arizona University

Learn more:

Natalie Truong (@ntruongedu) is Policy Director and Ashley Jones is Program Manager at iNACOL.

Deep Poverty, Deeper Learning, and Being an Ally

March 25, 2019 by

This is the last post in a series about equity and anti-racism issues discussed at the SXSW EDU 2019 conference. The two sessions reviewed in this post are Deep Poverty and Deeper Learning, and Let’s Get Real: A Primer for Allies. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Photos of Deep Poverty Deeper Learning PanelDeep Poverty and Deeper Learning

Too few schools committed to deeper learning serve students in concentrated poverty, according to this session’s panelists, but all four of them work in or with schools that are trying to do just that. The three presenters were high school principals—Linnea Garrett from Chicago Tech Academy, Matthew Riggan from The Workshop School in Philadelphia, and JuDonn DeShields from El Centro de Estudiantes in Philadelphia—and the discussant was Carlos Moreno, co-executive director of Big Picture Learning.

Multiple panelists touched on the theme of not assuming that students are ready and open to welcome the deeper learning options being offered to them. This is because students in deep poverty often have good reasons to distrust schools and the adults in them. Matthew noted that offering students voice and choice doesn’t mean that they will immediately open up and go along, after years of being told that they are “special needs” and other words that they hear as “inferior” or “problematic.”

Linnea emphasized that getting to the know students well has been essential, and something the school wasn’t doing enough at first. The key is “pouring love” into students, even when they push back against it, and bringing adults into the school who are able to do this and understand the importance of relationships with students. Matthew agreed, saying that “cool projects” are not what gets kids to keep coming back to school—it’s the sense of community and that people care about them.

Sometimes this caring takes unconventional forms that meet students where they are. Carlos shared a story of a school in his network that struggled with very low attendance rates. The principal learned that a major reason students were missing school was (more…)

Educolor: Elevating the Voices of Public School Advocates of Color

March 21, 2019 by

Photos of EduColor Panel MembersThis is the second post in a three-part series about equity and anti-racism issues discussed in sessions at the SXSW EDU 2019 conference. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

This session featured three members of Educolor, an organization that “seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice.” The presenters were Lorena German, a teacher in Austin, Texas; Julia Torres, a teacher librarian in Denver; and José Luis Vilson, a math teacher in New York City and Educolor’s executive director.

It was a wide-ranging conversation that started with describing what Educolor can offer its members—“an inclusive cooperative of informed, inspired and motivated educators, parents, students, writers and activists.” The friendly dialogue made it clear that the organization is a source of affirmation and mutual support. Educolor also has a newsletter with materials from members and a resources page that recommends dozens of educational equity and justice books, articles, movies, and websites. Their website even sells #EduColor t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, and coffee mugs.

Much of the session was spent responding to questions from audience members. One question was “How can innovation outside the system intentionally disrupt, transform, and liberate the system?” One panelist responded that district leaders find it hard to listen to voices that are already within the system, such as those of teachers. To outsiders who visit a district, she suggested “bringing the eyes of the people who gave you the money back to the people within the system who are working to make change.” Specifically, she said to identify the most marginalized people in the school and advocate for their voices to be heard.

Another question was “How can white teachers in predominantly white institutions participate while also getting out of the way to make room for voices of people of color?” (more…)

Amplifying Messages on Equity and Anti-Racism from SXSW EDU

March 18, 2019 by

Photos of equity to anti-racism panelTopics such as equity, anti-racism, discrimination, marginalization, and privilege were the main focus of four sessions I attended at SXSW EDU 2019. These issues are also central to competency-based education. One audience member asked, “How do we move the needle on issues of equity, agency, and pedagogy?” A panelist answered that allies should amplify the messages of people from marginalized groups who are trying to move that needle. Following that advice, I’m sharing takeaways from these sessions in a series of three blog posts, of which this is the first.

In a session entitled From Equity to Anti-Racism in Education, the presenters were Marco Davis, a partner at New Profit; Christopher Emdin, an associate professor at Teachers College; Kate Gerson, CEO of UnboundEd; and Jeff Livingston, CEO of EdSolutions, as facilitator. Jeff said that racism is “the combination of racial bias and the power to do something about it.” Systemic and structural racism were mentioned repeatedly as embodied in the American educational system, such as these three examples:

  • Jeff cited studies that students perform better academically when there are more teachers and school leaders who come from the students’ own demographic groups. Knowing this, he said it’s an example of systemic racism that adults of color are so under-represented in American schools and that the system isn’t working harder to remedy this disparity.
  • Kate noted that the term “achievement gap” puts the blame on students, whereas calling it the “provision gap” would suggest that the system is to blame for not providing what students need to succeed. She also said that news of gains such as rising graduation rates nationally often obscures the reality that many students, particularly those from marginalized groups, are graduating without basic skills they need for college and career success.
  • Multiple speakers noted that our curriculum, standards, and assessments reflect what the mostly white, male, middle class people who created them consider important. Skills that may be more common in communities of marginalized groups are often excluded from our standards and assessments. (This reminded me of a recent presentation from Jamila Lysicott where she recounted asking white educators at a PD workshop to develop and perform spoken word pieces; unsurprisingly, their skill level was low and they felt awkward and inferior.)

Affirmation, Agency, and Anti-Respectability

Chris said that anti-racist pedagogy requires many students from marginalized groups to receive deep affirmation first and foremost, as a precursor to successful learning. Being told for years that they are (more…)

How Competency-Based Learning Supports Culturally Responsive Curriculum

March 15, 2019 by

This post originally appeared at Global Online Academy on January 14, 2019.

Photo of Sara Tahir

Sara Tahir

Equity & Equality In the Classroom

I recently attended the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference, an event that I always find to be both an intellectually stimulating and an emotionally taxing professional learning experience. As an educator of color, I feel inspired by the wide array of pedagogical innovations occurring in classrooms across the country to promote equity, from using deeper learning to promote strategic self-advocacy, to incorporating anti-racist teaching into the math classroom. At the same time, I feel daunted by all of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve equity in our schools.

The Importance of Designing Culturally Inclusive Classrooms

In my three years of attending POCC, one theme always rises to the surface: how critical it is for schools to design culturally aware and inclusive learning experiences. Culturally responsive pedagogy comes up quite a bit at the conference, a critical facet of which is culturally responsive curriculum. Students need to be able both to see themselves and their lived experiences reflected in their curriculum and to gain exposure to people and cultures that are vastly different from the ones they know. They need to read and see stories that celebrate people of color in nuanced ways, that don’t treat them as caricatures featured in stories of suffering and oppression.

Yet, even schools that have taken the initiative to develop courses that focus on equity and inclusion often categorize those courses as electives. From my time in the classroom, I can vividly recall my students of color lamenting about how the stories of their people were often relegated to electives that students could opt out of.

From Elective Classes to a Seamlessly Inclusive Curriculum

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. A shift to competency-based learning (CBL) can increase opportunities to make curriculum more culturally responsive. (more…)

Step by Step Our Field Builds Its Capacity for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

November 14, 2018 by

Equity Principles (Click Image to Enlarge)

At iNACOL a few weeks ago, people from three different organizations came up to me to tell me about their progress in building organizational capacity around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some are making steps in building diverse candidate pools that are leading to greater diversity on staff. Some are starting to use an equity lens to review decisions. Some are turning the equity framework developed through the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education into tools to use with their networks.  

I think a good example of how our field is moving step by step (let’s be honest, there are still way too many panels of all white people or equity added as the last bullet point rather then integrated into the core of our work) is from NGLC. In their latest Practitioner Guide, they recount their story toward building their organizational capacity around equity: (more…)

When Equity and Student-Centered Learning Go Hand in Hand

October 18, 2018 by

I spent two days at the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative meeting last week. Kudos to the Student at the Center team for integrating equity and student-centered learning so deeply that they were one and the same. I’ll share three highlights of the meeting:

First, Eric Toshalis opened up the meeting with an acknowledgement that the meeting was taking place on lands that were originally those of Native Americans and that we were there without permission. After my trip to Aotearoa New Zealand, I have become a firm believer that we can build much stronger cultures of inclusivity if we are in a process of reconciliation and healing. I hold the greatest respect for Eric and JFF in launching the meeting in this way. (For those of you who are interested, this resource on how to honor native land can be helpful.) (more…)

Student-Centered Learning and Inclusion: Getting the Details Right

June 7, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Education Week on March 29, 2018.

Will student-centered learning be a real long-term driver for equity and inclusion? As with so much in education reform, the devil is in the details. (more…)

Meeting Students on Their Own Cultural Turf

May 30, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 7, 2018.

As teachers, we are hardwired to look favorably upon students who remind us of ourselves. It is healthy to reflect on this for a moment, as this is something that most teachers have rarely paused to consider. For this reason, Columbia University Associate Professor Chris Emdin’s New York Times bestselling book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’a’ll Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education may cause unease in some readers. His argument is that it is within this place of discomfort that real transformation occurs. (more…)

Talking about Race (and Mastery): Part 2

May 12, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Mastery Collaborative on April 25, 2018. Read the first post here.

In our last post about takeaways from trainings with Border Crossers and the Mastery Collaborative team about race, racism, and mastery, we shared members’ ideas about equity issues in traditional grading. In this post, we share participants’ ideas about how race can play out in our classroom dynamics in inequitable ways, and how we can plan for more just, and equitable, and effective facilitation moves. (more…)

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