• By Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2022 •
For almost 50 years, IDRA has been at the forefront of research, policy advocacy and educator training focused on building schools that center students’ cultures and life experiences in teaching practices and instructional materials. Our support of fair and effective policymaking that promotes this focus rests on core principles that have influenced our state and local advocacy and shape our expanding federal work.
Despite significant progress over the last 50 years, many schools still struggle to support and sustain students’ identities through curricula, instructional materials and teaching strategies. And recent policies make that struggle even more difficult.
In 2020, schools across the country began to experience the newest challenge to their commitment to support all students: so-called anti-critical race theory policies (Stout & Wilburn, 2022). These policies attempt to clip the throughlines of a history of systemic discrimination, denying that the many inequities we see in our housing, education, voting, healthcare, transportation and other systems are structural and claiming they should not (and cannot) be addressed through thoughtful and systemic reforms.
These classroom censorship policies are part of larger campaigns designed to target communities of color, LGBTQ+ communities, women and those with intersecting identities, leaving students feeling excluded and teachers struggling to have thoughtful, truthful and important conversations in the classroom (Latham Sikes, 2022).
The same people who attacked truthful lessons in the classroom since 2020 have also pushed for local book bans, unnecessary and deceptive “parental rights” policies, limits to academic freedom in colleges and universities, and policies that target LGBTQ+ youth and their ability to safely participate in their school communities. The architects of this far-reaching campaign against equity and diversity in our schools are attempting to redefine fundamental civil rights principles in order to eliminate examinations of race-based and other forms of discrimination and the tools we have to address them.
Such attacks are not new, though it often feels that they mark a new low in modern times (Sawchuck, 2022). The beliefs and systems that allow for the current campaign against educational equity also shaped decades-old policies that have resulted in the inequitable funding of public schools, under-resourced programs for emergent bilingual students, the funneling of students away from academic paths that prepare them for college, and pushing out of students of color through punitive discipline and school policing practices.
IDRA began its work five decades ago by challenging fundamentally inequitable school funding systems that limited opportunities for students of color and students living in under resourced communities. Our work expanded to focus on how schools must support emergent bilingual students in schools, how schools must prepare every student to succeed in college, and how schools use research-based strategies for strong, supportive classrooms as we end harmful practices like punitive school discipline and policing (Wilson & Latham Sikes, 2022).
Importantly, a community-centered advocacy strategy is as central to addressing these inequities as the policies themselves (Craven, 2019). As we expand and deepen our federal advocacy, IDRA relies on key principles of community-based advocacy that have shaped our policy recommendations at every level.
Federal Policymaking Spaces Belong to All People
Our responses to educational injustices require a multi-level advocacy approach, rooted in expanding access to decision-making spaces to all. This is true at the federal level, as well as the local and state levels. IDRA’s federal advocacy approach opens engagement opportunities to young people, families and others who may not be familiar with strategies to influence federal legislative and administrative decisions.
Through public comments, joint letters, direct outreach to policymakers and other engagement strategies, we work with coalition partners to help connect those most impacted by education policy with the federal decisionmakers. This helps to disrupt a model of policymaking that benefits a small group of people who have access by virtue of resources, proximity or historical privilege.
For example, in our work to stop harmful school discipline, we help to convene a national working group that connects young people and families to federal policymakers to urge them to support policies that end corporal punishment and other punitive discipline practices.
Students and Families Have Valuable Expertise and Perspectives
IDRA’s Education CAFE model, which helps community-based organizations identify and organize responses to educational issues in their schools, is expanding across the U.S. South through the Southern Education Equity Network (SEEN). This network uses an online community platform to provide advocacy resources and gathering spaces to partner organizations (check out the work of these incredible advocates at www.idraseen.org). This growing network helps IDRA connect community-based organizations to federal advocacy and to uplift and amplify the needs, best practices and policy solutions of communities across the U.S. South.
Community-centered Advocacy Yields the Best Results
IDRA leads and participates in cross-sector coalitions of student, parent, teacher and other advocacy organizations in Texas and Georgia. We track policy changes in other states across the U.S. South and base our federal research agenda and policy recommendations on a community-centered approach to advocacy.
We have found that this type of approach leads to policies and campaigns that are sustainable, thoughtful, inclusive and effective. Even though we know our advocacy and opposition to harmful policies will sometimes require effort over many years, we have learned to define “winning” in multiple ways, including by centering the work of young people, families and others.
For more information about IDRA’s federal policy advocacy, please contact Morgan Craven, J.D., IDRA’s national director of policy, advocacy, and community engagement, at email@example.com and sign up for our federal policy updates newsletter.
Carreón-Sánchez, S. (March 2022). An Introduction to Culturally Sustaining Practices in the Classroom. IDRA Newsletter.
Craven, M. (2019). Skin in the Game: The 86th Texas Legislative Session and the Impact of Advocate Diversity. Texas Education Review, 8(1), 91-101.
IDRA. (March 14, 2022). IDRA Launches ‘Southern Education Equity Network’ to Support Family & Community Advocates, press release.
IDRA. (December 2020). Education CAFE – Community Action Forums for Excellence. IDRA website.
IDRA. (2021). Six Lessons Learned from Fighting Against Classroom Censorship Policies. IDRA.
Latham Sikes, C. (February 2022). A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – The Attacks Against Equity through School Censorship and How Educators Can Still Teach the Truth. IDRA Newsletter.
Sawchuck, S. (April 19, 2022). What’s Driving the Push to Restrict Schools on LGBTQ Issues? Education Week.
Stout, C., & Wilburn, T. (February 1, 2022). CRT Map: Efforts to restrict teaching racism and bias have multiplied across the U.S. Chalkbeat.
Wilson, T., & Latham Sikes, C. (January 2022). Equitable Education Policies in the U.S. South Can Push the Country Toward Education Justice. IDRA Newsletter.
Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2022 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.]