We talked about school equity last year. Now we need to DO something about it

2016 was certainly the year of talking about equity around this country. Through data, the media and some brave storytellers, we figured out that students of color don’t experience school the same way white students do…again. By this I mean, this is not a new problem in our communities, we are just the new people are talking about it.

School districts and leaders should be moving in the next phase of this conversation. While I believe that continuing to create safe spaces for teachers, leaders and parents to realize their implicit biases and uncover their core beliefs and values is important, we need a collective sense of urgency if we hope to actually reimagine education.

Take a Stance

Being race neutral is like saying All Lives Matter instead of Black Lives Matter. Some think that the focusing on our differences further segregates us, but for the student experience in school, the differences are what make them unique. White students have been validated in the academic community and therefore believe that they belong. Students of color often feel isolated and disconnected in their school community. Acknowledging our student’s identities, history and the impacts that the choices that our ancestors made have on their experiences builds the foundation to urgency.

Do an Equity Audit

District and school hiring practices are a window into how urgent their equity mission really is. We continue to say that we need more black male teachers and leaders and more teachers of color, but what are our overt and public moves that would make this true in our schools and districts? When we hire any candidate, does our interview and screening process help us to understand the candidates’ core values and approaches to creating a culturally relevant experience for all?

What students are asked to do each day is another indication of where your school or district is on the urgency spectrum. How are we evaluating our taught curriculum so that it is a reflection of all identities and ethnicities? Do we provide students with content that challenges the current social norm? Are we regularly getting feedback from students about how they student experience the curriculum?

Change your Language

Language like, “these kids,” “you people,” “the low kids,” “the bad kids,” “Tier 2 and 3 students,” “below grade level” and “not college ready” seep in to the psychosocial attitudes for children of color. The narrative around the performance of students of color continues to feed into the cycle of low expectations, which then feeds into the feeling of inferiority and a sense of further isolation.

We need to construct a new language and experience. This language and experience should be affirming. This is what I mean by more affirming:

  • You belong here. The proof is that our curriculum has reflections of you and your personal experience. Your history is not taught as an elective, it is embedded in the curriculum. We have extra-curricular activities that reflect your interests but we also encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and cross some cultural and stereotypical lines.
  • This work has value. We have carefully planned your experience and have communicated effectively that you understand why you need to be engaged. Each course we offer is valued the same and you will be equally challenged throughout the day. You experience school the same way as your peers and are not relegated to a track.
  • You can succeed at this. We effectively communicate what you will be learning, why you are learning it and how you will demonstrate mastery. We provide you timely feedback that lets you know your success and your areas of growth. Our feedback communicates our high expectations in you and our belief in your work.
  • We trust you. You can make mistakes as adolescents without being labeled. We understand your emotional needs. You will have opportunities to restore relationships with peers and adults and reflect on your actions. We won’t limit your movement and access through harsh suspension practices. You feel safe in school not because there is a metal detector, but because you are part of the community.

This is not the entire answer, but it is a start.

What do you think?
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LeeAndra Khan

LeeAndra Khan

LeeAndra Khan is CEO of Civitas Education Partners, a charter management organization in Chicago. She served two years as a middle school principal in Oak Park, Illinois and formerly spent ten years in three Chicago high schools as a principal, assistant principal and math teacher. Before beginning her journey into education, she spent 10 years as a civil engineer designing roads, highways, gas stations and bridge inspections. LeeAndra is the mom of one son and the daughter of a retired Chicago Police Officer. She recently delivered a TEDx Talk on teacher voice and leadership beyond the classroom, where she tells a story about how a school culture transformed through more teacher influence.

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