IDRA at 45 Years: Courageous Connections for Advocacy
Editor’s Note: Anniversaries make us pause and pull out memories. We think back about the early days when people joined together for a special purpose. For IDRA, that purpose has not changed. As long as excellence in schools is available to only a few students, IDRA has kept its purpose – its mission – to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college.
For this issue of the IDRA Newsletter, two of our own, whose passion has helped fuel our work over the years, took some time out to reflect on IDRA’s trailblazing work along six paths: the path to fair funding, the path to good educational practices, the path of valuing students, the path of valuing educators, the path of valuing families, and the path of systems change. Their three articles in this newsletter are accompanied by photos across the decades and a peek at an online timeline of IDRA’s policy work.
We are grateful for all who have been a part of this journey since 1973 when a small group of people set out to change the world.
In 1973, the Edgewood school district was in dire economic circumstances. So were many of her sister Texas school districts: student and family rich, but funding poor. A group of parents wanted to know why their district couldn’t do more to fix their old, partially condemned school building, buy enough books or hire better teachers when nearby school districts could. A federal court had agreed in 1971 and found the Texas system unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.
But in March 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, while the Texas system of funding schools was indeed “chaotic and unjust,” there was no federal requirement to assure that it be just and equitable (San Antonio ISD v. Rodríguez). In essence, until education becomes a federal responsibility through a constitutional amendment, Texas and the other 49 states hold responsibility for education of their children.
The Path to Fair Funding
The next month, Dr. José Angel Cárdenas left the Edgewood superintendency to create a San Antonio-based organization that would inform the citizens and leaders of Texas about the gross inequities of school finance. The new non-profit, Texans for Educational Excellence, would later become IDRA as staff participated in each reform study group, attended each session of the Texas legislature and provided research data and testimony during litigation in the state courts.
At the beginning, the expectation was that, once there was public knowledge about the alarming economic circumstance of hundreds of public school districts and thousands of children, the legislature would do the right thing and close the funding gaps. Forty-five years later, gaps between the rich and poor are a bit better, but on the whole, inequities continue, augmented now by the state’s reduced commitment and the funneling of money to private charter schools funded by public monies.
Today, Texas ranks 41st nationally and earned a grade of D+ in the school finance portion of the 2018 Quality Counts report released by Education Week (2018). For equity in spending across districts in the state, Texas earned a grade of F (43rd nationally), and for overall school finance, Texas earned a D+.
There is currently a gap of $1,100 per student between the richest and poorest 5 percent of districts in Texas. That resource advantage translates to over $1.1 million for a school district serving 1,000 students. Also, Dr. Marialena Rivera, the IDRA 2016 José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow, reported last year that Texas local school districts are responsible for funding over 90 percent of facilities with little or no state assistance.
One harsh irony is that, even as people across the country struggle to create a public will for full, adequate and equitable funding and to elect legislators who will enact the laws and rules that will achieve it, a powerful and sinister movement to drain limited public funds into private, unaccountable charter schools worsens the problem.
The yet to be attained equity in school funding remains a fundamental goal of our work at IDRA.
The Path to Good Educational Practices
Undereducation and inequities are clearly deeper than insufficient funding. One “expert” on school finance proclaimed: “It’s good to have some children in schools with less money than others because it forces the state to pump in new money each year. The children in poor districts are like rabbits in a dog race. They serve an important purpose of giving the dogs something to chase” (Cárdenas, 2005).
Education in the 1970s was clearly disconnected and hugely incompatible with students and families. IDRA called attention to its Theory of Incompatibilities, asserting that the failure of students of color and poor children “can be attributed to a lack of compatibility of the characteristics of minority children and the characteristics of a typical instructional program” (Cárdenas & Cárdenas, 1977). We identified over 40 such incompatibilities in the areas of poverty, culture, language, mobility and societal perceptions.
Rather than blaming students and families and expecting them to adapt, a fundamental belief in the genesis of IDRA was that adults, in schools and in public decision-making positions, are responsible for transforming school practices and policies so that all students have the opportunity to learn. Poor children and families do not cause schools to be poor; rather, poor schools are caused by poor educational practices and poor educational policies.
Even as IDRA continued to focus on fair funding, we quickly moved to establish multiple approaches increasing school compatibility with the economic needs, culture, language, mobility, and societal perceptions of children and families. And of course equitable resources must be invested in appropriate and effective education.
Having the resources to hire more teachers and counselors still does not guarantee that children will be seen and taught as potential college students and successful graduates. Rather, innovation in educational practices has been a must.
Listen to our podcast episode: “Busting Myths About Children of Poverty” (24 min)
In 1975, IDRA’s Center for the Management of Innovation in Multicultural Education (MIME) assisted schools to serve English learners, addressing issues of student identification and proper placement, and curriculum and instruction. At the time it was a new way of thinking. First and foremost was the very early recognition that education is an “innovation ecosystem that organizations must create if they want to be able to stay relevant and compete in this rapidly changing world we are seeing” (Morgan, 2015).
IDRA developed a school-based change approach on three planes – comprehensive, focused and general assistance – that have stood the test of time and remain in place today.
- The management of innovation required an approach for training and technical assistance (comprehensive) that was labor intensive and designed to facilitate a multi-year process for school districts desiring broad transformation.
- Another assistance approach (focused) involved a campus-level, professional or curriculum development process that was site-based and sustained over several school years.
- The third approach (general assistance), while consisting of one or a few days, was direct and on-site, giving information and also a taste for the highly-participatory and adult-learning-based workshops that became the standard for the most effective IDRA professional development events.
Along with disseminating information and presenting expert testimony in court and in legislative halls, IDRA’s emulated approach deepened our attempts to transform institutions.
Listen to our podcast episode: “A Valuing Professional Development Model” (15 min)
IDRA has promoted accountability and equity in public schools. IDRA has provided expert testimony in court cases that created contexts for change. IDRA worked with state legislatures to create policies that promote appropriate instruction in bilingual education programs and to advocate reforms to school finance systems. IDRA has conducted critical research on the status of education and promising practices.
For more than four decades, IDRA has operated an equity assistance center and various other research and technical assistance centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education. IDRA works with tens of thousands of educators each year in creating educational solutions through participatory training, coaching and technical assistance that promote sustained growth and development.
We will continue to find solutions to persistent problems, solutions that promise to set a new standard for all children – a standard of vision, hope, equity and excellence.
Cárdenas, J.A., & Cárdenas, B. (1977). The Theory of Incompatibilities: A Conceptual Framework for Responding to the Educational Needs of Mexican American Children (San Antonio, Texas, Intercultural Development Research Association).
Cárdenas, J.A. (February 2005). “The Fifty Most Memorable Quotes in School Finance,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas, Intercultural Development Research Association).
Education Week. (June 6, 2018). “Texas Earns a C-Minus on State Report Card, Ranks 41st in Nation,” Quality Counts 2018 – Grading the States (Bethesda, Md.: Education Week).
Morgan, J. (August 12, 2015). “The Innovation Ecosystem for the Future of Work,” Forbes.
Rivera, M. (April 2017). What about the Schools? Factors Contributing to Expanded State Investment in School Facilities – Case Study State Highlights #1: Texas (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
Robledo Montecel, M., & Goodman, C.L. (Eds). (2010). Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is President & CEO of the Intercultural Development Research Association. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is an IDRA senior education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at email@example.com.
[©2018, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2018 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]