Equity in our schools
When we talk about equity (particularly racial equity) in our schools, we are talking about eliminating the racial predictability of all sorts of measurements:
- Achievement on standardized tests
- Discipline rates
- Identification of students with disabilities
- Identification of gifted students
- Advanced coursework
On all of these measures, in most schools across the nation, African American students have worse outcomes than their white peers, even after accounting for economic status. Our schools can’t solve all of society’s ills, but where we are putting up barriers to successful learning, we need to recognize the racial aspect and address it forthrightly.
As state superintendent, I commit to:
- Supporting the use of restorative practices on a statewide basis to significantly reduce the impact of suspensions on students of color. Especially after attending an International Institute for Restorative Practices training several years ago, I have been a believer in the power of strong relationships in our schools to teach students not just academic subjects, but also better social and emotional learning as well. At their core, restorative practices provide a method to use the power of relationships to change how we live together, instead of punishing through separation.
- Changing how we measure success so that teachers can focus on what matters to all students–growth for each and every student. Whether a student comes into a class two years behind or a year ahead, if we use measurements that tell teachers that we value the growth of all students, we will see different results.
- Supporting recruitment and retention strategies that encourage more teachers who match the demographics of their students to enter the profession and stay. The research is clear that this benefits students, so the state should focus efforts here.
- Encouraging local gifted education plans that recognize many talents as “giftedness” and use our gifted services to nurture talents that have historically been ignored.
- Supporting innovative course options that include rigor in nontraditional offerings, to encourage high achievement of all our students. This includes partnerships with local community colleges to encourage college attainment while in high school.
- Promoting recognized, research-based successful practices in equity that some of our districts are using but that can be replicated for the success of all North Carolina students. When I first ran for school board, I was mocked for asking for a “gap czar” who would focus district attention on equity issues. Eight years later, we’ve had successful equity directors who coordinated professional development, engaged the community, and led change in work on school culture to benefit students of color.
- Promoting equitable funding. Student needs vary. The cost of providing the supports students need varies. We need a statewide conversation about the implications of changing our funding formulas to provide needed supports.
- Pushing for public charter schools to have demographics similar to the communities they serve. This will mean different things in different places, but we should work to remove barriers that students face (such as free lunch, transportation) in accessing all schools.
- Encouraging schools to use creative strategies in addressing tough issues. While I’ve been on the school board, our lawyers have come up with ways to encourage equity without violating laws that prohibit decisions based on race. For example, a creative strategy is neighborhood priority for admissions lotteries to compensate for historical lower participation. Great ideas need to be shared wide and far.
This work is not easy. The list above certainly isn’t exhaustive. And the state superintendent cannot do this work alone, or even in a small group. To make this better, we will need all public schools working towards our constitutional mandate and North Carolina values of public education for all. But we can do better. In order to succeed as a state, we must do better. I have the leadership, experience, and passion for education to help us all do better.