Reader's Guide / Taking Responsibility for School Equity - ASCD
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March 1, 2021

Reader's Guide / Taking Responsibility for School Equity

"Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Equity
Professional Learning
School Culture
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The quote featured on the cover of this issue comes from an essay James Baldwin published in the New York Times Book Review in 1962. 1 Incidentally, the essay is not explicitly about race or equity. Rather, it is a kind of generational literary manifesto. In it, Baldwin exhorts his fellow contemporary writers to let go of longing for the supposed innocence of the past and to concentrate on the difficult "particulars" of the lives before them—to "describe us to ourselves as we are now." This means fighting against complacency and "soothing lies," and re-examining conventions that block honest appraisal.

"We are the generation," Baldwin writes, "that must throw everything into the endeavor to remake America into what we say we want it to be."

Seriously powerful words. And while the essay isn't about race or discrimination per se, you can see its rhetorical relevance to the conversations we are having today about systemic racism and educational equity. Indeed, many of the educator-authors in this issue on "Equity in Action" echo Baldwin in urging us to see things as they really are for many students in our schools and to avoid sugarcoating or masking over problems—or retreating into more comfortable narratives. In their emphasis on actionable (if not easy) solutions, they are also encouraging us to match our stated ideals with real change in schools.

The opening article by Sarah Fiarman, Kristina Kyles-Smith, and Alison Lee—which in fact inspired us to highlight the Baldwin quote— sets the tone. The authors discuss the importance of explicitly integrating equity—and particularly racial equity—into school continuous improvement plans. As they describe it, this means disaggregating data to identify patterns in outcomes and opportunities; using that data to refine instructional practices; challenging biases about student potential; and addressing specific, school-based barriers to learning. "Taking responsibility for impact," the authors write, "shifts [educators] away from a culture of blame and generates collaborative problem solving, momentum, and self-reflection."

This emphasis on taking greater ownership of students' trajectories and shifting educator perspectives comes through as well in Tyrone C. Howard and Jaleel R. Howard's powerful piece on working with Black boys. But the Howards (a father-son writing team) focus more on the relational aspects of equity work. They argue that equity-centered education for Black male students requires "deep-seated care"—a type of care that is "replete with culturally sustaining teaching, rooted in antiracism, and tied to 'warm demander' approaches to teaching." This entails, among other things, interrogating preconceived narratives, gaining a richer understanding of Black boys' experiences and needs, and advocating for them as inherently promising learners.

Other pieces in this issue echo and expand on these themes. Some of them examine common instructional barriers in schools and provide strategies and tools to "open new pathways toward more equitable forms of teaching" (Shah, Ortiz, Christensen, Stroupe and Reinholz). Others offer advice on addressing entrenched structural patterns and underlying biases that often get in the way of meaningful equity work. Together, the articles also form a picture of the key traits of equity-centered educators and school leaders, including empathy, continuous self-inquiry, and a dogged determination to confront the "particulars" of inequitable conditions and outcomes. As leadership coach Jamila Dugan writes, "equity isn't a destination but an unwavering commitment to a journey."

In her piece on equity-focused professional development, T. Nicole Tucker-Smith adds that effective equity work often creates a feeling of disequilibrium in schools because it threatens long-held systems and beliefs. Indeed, the ground-shifting difficulty of equity work is highlighted throughout this issue. As James Baldwin understood, that is a necessary part of facing the hard things.

Reflect & Discuss

"Is Your Approach to Continuous Improvement Colorblind?" by Sarah Fiarman, Kristina Kyles-Smith, and Alison Lee

➛ Can you identify any ways unconscious bias or deficit thinking has affected school-improvement efforts in your school or district?

➛ How could your school or district do better in disaggregating data by race and ensuring that data informs policy and practice?

➛ In terms of teaching or leading for equity, what would adopting the "language of personal responsibility" mean for you?

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""Radical Care" to Let Black Boys Thrive" by Tyrone C. Howard and Jaleel R. Howard

➛ In what ways do you think Black boys experience school differently in your school or district—or in the U.S. generally?

➛ The authors note that most teachers "have no idea what it's like to be a Black boy in the United States." What concerns or implications does that raise for you as an educator?

➛ What specific steps could you take to ensure that Black boys are not stigmatized or excluded in your school or classroom?

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➛ Which equity traps and tropes sound or feel familiar to you?

➛ How can you and your colleagues become more aware of equity traps and tropes?

➛ What might be the converse of the traps or tropes you identified?

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"Who Participates?" by Niral Shah, Nickolaus Ortiz, Julie Christensen, David Stroupe, and Daniel Reinholz

➛ What kinds of hierarchies are present at your school or in your classroom that might be useful to track using a tool like EQUIP?

➛ In addition to classroom participation, what other ways might implicit biases be cropping up in day-to-day teaching? How can you work to identify and change them?

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"Coaching for Equity Demands Deeper Dialogue" by Candice Bocala and RoLesia R. Holman

➛ What technical challenges have arisen during your team's equity work? What adaptive challenges have arisen? What coaching moves did you make to address these challenges?

➛ How could the RIDES Equity Improvement Cycle help guide your school's equity work?

➛ What goes into determining whether to directly confront resistance or lead team members to inquiry?

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"The Illusion of Equity PD" by T. Nicole Tucker-Smith

➛ Have you experienced professional learning that appeared to be effective, but actually wasn't? What might've been done to push that learning further?

➛ What questions will you ask the next time you are planning PD or participating in PD to help ensure the learning is effective and useful?

End Notes

1 Baldwin, J. (1962, January 14). "As much truth as one can bear." The New York Times Book Review.

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