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November 1, 2016
Vol. 74
No. 3

EL Study Guide

EL Study Guide thumbnail
Credit: Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu
At a time when the majority of U.S. K–12 public school students live in poverty and achievement gaps persist, it's essential to try new approaches to make certain every student has equal access to learning. Articles in this issue suggest some key different approaches schools might try.

Talking about Race, Class, and Equity

Several articles (Rick Wormeli's "Let's Talk About Racism in Schools," Julie Landsman's "Helping Students Discuss Race Openly," and Vernita Mayfield's "Conversation Interrupted") suggest ways teachers and students can talk frankly about race and culture. Wormeli asserts that it's essential to talk about race, equity, and our practice openly: "We can't truly create equal opportunities for all until our institutions take specific actions to end [racist] thinking and policies. … And ground zero for an equitable, nonracist society is the K–12 classroom."
  • Do you agree with Wormeli that it's important for educators to talk together about racism and whether it exists in school policies?
  • Are there opportunities in your school for teachers to talk openly as a group about racial issues, biases, and how racism may be operating in ways that hold students back?
  • Do you think it would benefit your school, faculty, and students if teachers had chances to engage in structured discussion about race and bias? If so, create a plan for how you might make such discussions happen. Who might you approach to help bring them into being? Keeping in mind Wormeli's tips on p. 21 for productive discussion, choose colleagues who might make effective facilitators.
  • Have such discussions ever been tried at your school (you may want to ask some colleagues who've been there quite a while)? If so, how did people feel about the interactions?
Preparation is key to having any talk about race, class, and equity be fruitful. Wormeli discusses how difficult it is to speak up when one observes racist remarks or actions, and Julie Landsman notes that teachers need to be ready for the subject of race to come up unexpectedly while interacting with kids.
  • In groups of two or three, practice responding to scenarios involving racism like those Wormeli describes in his article.
  • Landsman notes that to help students talk about race and privilege—which they're eager to do—we need to first build a trusting community where students' perspectives are recognized, known, and respected. Read Landsman's suggestions for bringing out students' voices. Commit yourself to a few ideas that you might try with your learners this fall.

Reflecting on Our Own Bias

Sarah Fiarman ("Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren't Enough") states that all humans harbor biases, and that teachers' unconscious biases can affect the way they respond to students. The first step to busting biases, Fiarman says, is to "normalize talking about bias … and explicitly naming it."
  • Do you agree with Fiarman's premise that most people have some bias toward some groups? Do you agree with her statement that "For many white people … recognizing that we're biased can be hard to face. However, if white educators like me don't seek to understand our internalized biases, we risk perpetuating inequality." Why or why not?
  • Is inadvertent bias on the part of teachers or administrators ever talked about at your school? Would it be helpful to create a way to talk safely about bias—perhaps by discussing Fiarman's article at a faculty or department meeting?
  • Are you curious about your own unconscious biases? Try taking the implicit bias test that Fiarman mentions or the Intercultural Development Inventory Landsman mentions.
Julie Landsman asserts that to prepare for promoting equity, teachers (especially white teachers) need to do work around their own biases, and she suggests resources to help with this. As a group, choose one of the texts or other resources Landsman mentioned and review this resource together. Use the resource to reflect on how implicit bias might creep into your interactions with students at times. Share with the group what you learned and steps you hope to take.

Using Data to Bring Equity

Articles here share data that raise alarms about how high poverty rates are lessening students' chances in school and about how inequities in discipline are hurting students ("Protecting Black Girls" by Monique W. Morris and "The Root of Discipline Disparities" by James E. Ford.) For instance, Ford gives telling national data on racial disparities in student suspensions. He shares his experiences seeing many students of color in his school being kicked out of class for small infractions.
  • Discuss your school's policies and practices on removing students from class or suspending them. If your school is racially mixed, have you noticed patterns as to which group of students tends to be disciplined in this way most often? Can you look at your school's data? Do you have stories about students being removed from class or school to share?
Some authors maintain that it's important to question how we're using data—and be certain it's used in ways that promote equity. In Susan Neuman's piece ("Code Red: The Danger of Data-Driven Instruction"), she reveals that in schools she's studied, constant recording and display of detailed data showing each student's score on dozens of reading assessments demotivates struggling readers and leads to low-level reading instruction for too many.
  • Are data walls with spreadsheets of individual data like those Neuman describes used in your school? If so, who sees them? How much "skill score" data is shared with the individual learners?
Drawing on your experience with students facing academic struggles, discuss whether knowing detailed data about their own achievement, particularly when that achievement is low or shifting very little, motivates students. Or does seeing the data lead children to label themselves? How have you noticed students reacting to their own achievement data?
Do you think teachers knowing lots of detail about a student's level of reading skills helps or hurts equity? Does this kind of data help a teacher know just what to do for each learner—or does it risk influencing how a teacher views a new-to-her student, possibly leading her to offer lower-level texts—as Neuman says "distorting the way reading is taught."
Robin Avelar La Salle and Ruth S. Johnson's piece on "the wallpaper effect" reveals how a district probed beyond summary data and gathered perspectives from focus groups made up of learners from different groups, teachers, and other school professionals. Peeling back layers beyond the summary revealed practices the school could easily shift to promote equity.
School leaders: Consider how you might "peel back layers" to find the deeper data under the surface that would shed light on a disparity in your schools you've hoped to understand.

Resources for Further Study

The following resources available from ASCD can help any teacher or school leader build greater equity in any educational arena.

ASCD Books

EL Articles

Previous Issues of Educational Leadership

PD Online Courses

  • Achievement Gaps: An Introduction

  • Achievement Gaps: The Path to Equity

  • Teaching with Poverty in Mind


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