Equity in education is improving, but it is far from a reality for all students. This was the sentiment expressed by education leaders in south central United States.
As a part of the ongoing commitment to identify and address issues that challenge school districts regarding race, gender and national origin equity, the Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) South Central Collaborative for Equity (SCCE) held its annual Region VI focus group and work session in April. The SCCE is the federally-funded equity assistance center that serves Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
The group was comprised of educators from selected school districts in the region, representatives from each of the five state departments of education, SCCE project associates who serve as technical assistance consultants, and IDRA staff. They participated in extended dialogs on a set of questions that assisted the SCCE in creating an updated needs assessment for the region.
The Condition of Civil Rights and Equity
Participants were asked to describe the condition of civil rights and equity in the areas of race, gender, and national origin. Some of the comments follow.
- There is a need for protection from hate-based actions and racial hostility in schools.
- Parents are becoming more willing to raise questions about issues of fair treatment regarding race.
- Persistent issues of equity seem to defy treatment. Issues such as the achievement gap between minority and majority students and over- and under-representation in special education and gifted education programs still provide challenges that are difficult to confront.
- Improved accountability and monitoring systems are helping to provide more realistic information about what is and is not happening to students.
- The state departments of education are not providing a necessary and sufficient level of leadership in issues impacting educational equity regarding race.
- Sexual harassment in schools is a difficult challenge to address.
- The general low level of interest in gender issues among school staffs is reflected in issues such as:
- a lack of access for girls in athletics and inappropriate desegregation of courses and programs by gender;
- poor outreach to families regarding gender-related issues;
- persistence of White male privilege in schools, classrooms, and program access;
- treatment of minority women, including African American, Hispanic and Native American women, in all matters of gender equity;
- the persistent inappropriate view that gender issues are only women’s issues; and
- the lack of consideration given to males and gender equity.
- There is persistent hostility toward national origin minority families and students particularly regarding all aspects of inclusion and treatment in school environments.
- There are persistent problems of school personnel’s tendency to compartmentalize language issues so that they cannot think of linguistic difference and intelligence or competency at the same time in the same place.
- There has been failure to establish, implement and sustain strong, effective transitional bilingual programs that build English language proficiency to support healthy academic transitions from one language to another in courses and curricular offerings.
- There are continued problems with appropriate assessment and placement of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students.
- There is growing confusion around concepts and categories related to national origin minority students, including LEP status, immigrant status, citizenship status, ethnic and racial status, and recency of arrival status.
Obstructions to the Goals of Educational Equity
The group also identified some of the persistent issues that make it difficult to reach the goals of educational equity in race, gender, and national origin. Some of the issues the group identified follow.
- Lack of appropriate law or policy to ground more equitable treatment, in some instances.
- Closed or sometimes hostile political climate that exists in some communities and schools.
- Lack of appropriate funding to provide an equitable opportunity to learn.
- Failure to distribute resources for learning to all students in a fair, balanced and equitable manner.
- Unwillingness on the part of those in control to include all key stakeholders in decision making and problem solving.
- Inappropriate oversight, enforcement and sanctions for those who violate existing law and policy and discriminate against learners by race, gender, and national origin.
- A deficiency in the notion of “valuing” leading to biased views of who deserves and does not deserve excellent education.
- Continued blaming of the “victims” of inequity and discrimination for the outcomes of inequity and discrimination.
- Inability of some educators to respond appropriately to the diversity of students in their midst as seen in curriculum, schools, classrooms, and instructional methods and practices.
Factors Assisting Equity
In a similar fashion, the group discussed factors that are helping to establish equity and excellence in schools. Some of those factors follow.
- Oversight of external entities such as the federal courts and the Office for Civil Rights.
- Growing awareness and acceptance on the part of educators and citizens that no one wins when learners are failing or being forced out of schools.
- Increasing state educational standards and expectations for higher student performance.
- Improving accountability systems and measures on the part of state departments of education.
- Emerging voices of parents and community people who are expecting more from their schools and those who run them.
- Growing body of research evidence of programs that work to move all learners to higher outcomes given an opportunity to learn, resources for learning, and necessary and sufficient human and material supports for learning.
In addition to the extensive fact finding and needs assessment activity, the group also became involved in a special presentation with Dr. Chris Green of IDRA about technology and the equity gap in public schools. Her presentation was the basis for an article in the May issue of the IDRA Newsletter entitled, “Bridging the Digital Divide in Our Schools – Achieving Technology Equity for All Students.” This discussion allowed the group to determine evidence of a district’s responsiveness to the educational goals of equity (Scott, 2000) using a framework described by Dr. Adela Solís of IDRA in her February IDRA Newsletter article, “Equity Principles and School Reform: What It Takes to Ensure that ‘All Means All,” (Solís, 2000).
The results of the group’s work will be published in an occasional paper with the working title, “The Evidence of Equity: Voices from the Field.” This publication will expand and refine the discussion of the five goals of educational equity. It will also present the best thinking of educators throughout the SCCE service area on what would be the real proof or evidence that the various goals were being achieved in school systems and classrooms.
The SCCE staff appreciates the support and cooperation that is constantly and consistently shown by those educators, parents, and community people with whom they work in the schools and classrooms of federal Region VI. The annual focus group and work session continues to be one of the shining examples of the ongoing collaboration that exists between the SCCE and its client districts that helps to create schools that work for all learners. It is a collaborative relationship for which the SCCE is extremely grateful.
Green, L.C. “Bridging the Digital Divide in Our Schools – Achieving Technology Equity for All Students,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2000).
Scott, B. “We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Solís, A. “Equity Principles and School Reform: What It Takes to Ensure that ‘All Means All,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Bradley Scott, M.A., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development and the director of IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., coordinates IDRA’s materials development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at email@example.com.
The IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity is the equity assistance center that serves Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas in the areas of race, gender, and national origin desegregation. IDRA creates high-powered assistance for local education agencies through one-on-one interaction – such as training in the value of diversity and preventing sexual harassment – and other support assistance – such as training packages, videos, and modules for race, sex, and national origin equity. For more information contact IDRA at 210-444-1710 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2000 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.]