Equity

Aydin Bal is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Professor Bal studies racial disproportionality and capacity building in local education agencies for systemic transformation. His recent research projects aims at developing culturally responsive intervention methodologies for ecologically valid, socially just, and sustainable transformations in schools. As a practitioner, Professor Bal has worked with youth from historically marginalized communities and refugees who experience behavioral difficulties. He is directing a statewide research project, Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Youth from nondominant cultural and linguistic backgrounds are disproportionately exposed to exclusionary and punitive school disciplinary actions (e.g., detention, suspension, and expulsion) and placed in special education for emotional disturbance (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). The racialization of school discipline has a long history (Children’s Defense Fund, 1975). These disparities hold today, with African American, Latino, and Native American students disproportionally subjected to harsher punishments for less objective reasons such as disrespect, insubordination, or excessive noise (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Losen & Orfield, 2012). Racial disproportionality in behavioral outcomes has been a major social justice problem that contributes to unacceptable and detrimental consequences in the lives of nondominant youth, their families and teachers and the society as a whole (Noguera, 2003).

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We obtained permission to reprint in our blog series a letter written by Rae Paris. The letter was originally published in blackspaceblog.com. Rae Paris addresses the historic and recent events of police brutality. It has been signed by over 1,000 Black professors around the world.

Photo caption: Black students and professors, Beaumont Tower, Michigan State University, December 6, 2014.

The citation for the original publication is:

Paris, Rae. (December 8, 2014). An Open Letter of Love to Black Students: #BlackLivesMatter. Retrieved from http://blackspaceblog.com/2014/12/08/an-open-letter-of-love-to-black-students-blacklivesmatter/

Rae Paris is from Carson, California. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Common, Guernica, Dismantle, Solstice, and other journals. Her work has been supported by the NEA Literature Fellowship, and residencies from Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Hambidge Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and VONA. Her poem “The Forgetting Tree” was selected as Best of the Net 2013, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart. She teaches fiction at the Bread Loaf School of English, and lives and writes mostly in East Lansing, Michigan where she’s Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Michigan State University. 

We are Black professors.

We are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, and mothers.

We’re writing to tell you we see you and hear you. Read more

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Adai Tefera’s research focuses on improving educational policies for diverse learners with dis/abilities. She is particularly interested in understanding the socio-historical, political, and cultural dimensions that shape policies and impact learning. A second strand of her research focuses on knowledge mobilization, an emerging field that aims to increase the impact and use of research by utilizing interactive strategies that target wide audiences, including educators, policy makers, community organizers, parents, and students. She is specifically interested in knowledge mobilization efforts that advance equity in education.

Taucia Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration in special education. She is interested in expanding literacy practices for language minority students with learning disabilities. More specifically, her work examines how Latina/o language minority students engage in literacy across in- and out-of-school contexts.

Cueponcaxochitl’s research draws on decolonial and socio-cultural theories to examine Ancestral Computing for environmental, economic and social sustainability. Ancestral Computing for sustainability is an ecosystems approach to solving complex problems by interweaving Ancestral Knowledge Systems and computer science. She is a Xicana scholar activist who applies the interdisciplinary frameworks, coloniality of power and figured worlds, to analyze identity formations and civic engagement across learning environments (formal and informal). Her research informs various areas of work such as foundations, teacher preparation programs, curriculum studies and policy in computer science education.

Sarah Alvarado Díaz is a research assistant for Equity Alliance and a first-year doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies and Technologies program, with a special interest in students who are labeled as English language learners, as students who receive special education services, and in particular, looking at disproportionate numbers of English language learners being referred for special education services or being placed in special education programs.  Prior to coming to ASU as a full-time student she worked as an elementary school teacher in a South Phoenix school for sixteen years, where she worked with first through third grade students, and many years as a dual language teacher, in English and Spanish.  

This blog is written from the perspective of our four voices combined. You will see that the lines between our stories are blurred. Our combined experiences in policy and teaching in diverse settings is weaved into the voice of one person with four intersectional paths of theory and practice. Read more

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H. Richard Milner IV is the Helen Faison Endowed Chair of Urban Education, Professor of Education, Professor of Social Work (by courtesy), and Professor of Africana Studies (by courtesy) as well as Director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a policy fellow of the National Education Policy Center. His research, teaching and policy interests concern urban education, teacher education, African American literature, and the sociology of education. In particular, Professor Milner’s research examines practices that support teachers for success in urban schools. Professor Milner’s work has appeared in numerous journals, and he has published five books. His book, published in 2010 by Harvard Education Press, is: Start where you are but don’t stay there: Understanding diversity, opportunity gaps, and teaching in today’s classrooms http://hepg.org/hep/book/129/StartWhereYouAreButDonTStayThere, which represents years of research and development effort. Currently, he is Editor-in-chief of Urban Education and co-editor of the Handbook of Urban Education http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415634779/with Kofi Lomotey, published with Routledge Press in 2014. He can be reached at rmilner@pitt.edu.

Years ago, I provided a workshop with educators in an elementary school – educators, principals, and a small number of counselors.  I was invited to focus – in particular – on the role of poverty in education and to provide instructional strategies for educators that would assist them in better meeting the needs of students whose needs are grossly under-met in schools.  These students tend to be students of color (namely Black and Brown), those living in poverty, those whose first language is not English, and those whose first language is not English.  Although analyses of achievement gap patterns, graduate rates, enrollment in gifted and advanced courses, office and special education referral, and participation in school-wide clubs and activities demonstrate how Black and Brown children’s needs, in particular, in too many instances are not being met, my attempt to shepherd the educators in the workshop into real conversations about race, the salience and persistence of racism, and inequity was resisted.  Moreover, educators in the session wanted me to tell them exactly what to do with “those” children, who are very different than the children the educators taught in the past and “certainly” different from the times when the educators themselves were students.  I quickly learned my job was to focus on poverty exclusively and to tell those in attendance exactly what to do to raise their students’ test scores.

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Erica Frankenberg (Ed.D., Harvard University) is an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies in the College of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests focus on racial desegregation and inequality in K-12 schools, and the connections between school segregation and other metropolitan policies. She has published four books, dozens of articles in education policy journals, law reviews, housing journals, and practitioner publications, and has been involved in several desegregation cases as an expert witness.  Her work has also been cited in recent Supreme Court decisions about race-conscious policies in education.

Prior to joining the Penn State faculty, she was the Research and Policy Director for the Initiative on School Integration at the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA.  One aspect of her work has examined how districts respond to the Supreme Court’s 2007 voluntary integration decision. This on-going research examines how school districts define diversity and what policies they adopt to pursue diversity. Dr. Frankenberg is the co-editor of Integrating schools in a changing society: New policies and legal options for a multiracial generation (with Elizabeth DeBray), from the University of North Carolina Press. 

Dr. Frankenberg recently completed a study of suburban racial change examining the extent to which suburban districts are becoming more diverse, how they conceptualize of this change, and what responses districts and communities adopt. A book from the Harvard Education Press in Fall 2012 co-edited with Gary Orfield, The Resegregation of Suburban Schools: A Hidden Crisis in American Education, is the first publication from this project. 

Finally, Dr. Frankenberg’s research has examined how the design of school choice policy affects racial and economic student stratification. This has included examining the segregation trends in charter schools as well as analyzing state and federal policy to understand why such patterns of segregation exist in charter schools. She has co-authored (with Gary Orfield) a book on this topic, Educational Delusions? Why Choice Can Deepen Inequality and How to Make it Fair (from University of California Press). 

On May 15, the Civil Rights Project released a study that I co-authored with Gary Orfield about the extent of school segregation 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued on May 17, 1954. Our analysis of data from public schools across the country has several noteworthy findings. Today, the country’s public school enrollment is more diverse than ever. In the two largest regions the South and the West, in fact, white students no longer comprise a majority of the enrollment. In the South, traditionally home to most black students and where black students remain the most desegregated despite sharp declines, Latinos are larger than blacks. We find that black and Latino students across most regions have rising segregation, including substantial segregation in suburban areas.  Although traditionally not a focus of most segregation discussions, white students too are segregated: white students attend schools with higher percentages of same-race peers than of any other race (nearly three-quarters of students, on average). Finally, schools with high concentrations of black & Latino students strongly overlap with concentrated poverty. Read more

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Tracy Lachica Buenavista is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and a core faculty member in the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In her research she uses critical race theory to examine the ways that migration, militarization, and education intersect to shape the academic trajectories for Asian Americans, particularly U.S. Pilipina/os.  She has published articles on U.S. Pilipina/o college access and retention, undocumented Asian student experiences, and the militarization of immigration reform in various journals including AAPI Nexus, Amerasia, and Asian American Policy Review. 

She has also contributed to several book projects focused on Asian American and Pilipina/o American educational experiences, and co-edited with her colleagues, Navigating the Great Recession: Immigrant Families’ Stories of Resilience. She is a Research Fellow with the Asian American and Pacific Islander Research Coalition (ARC) and is involved with the Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans (REAPA) Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Dr. Buenavista received her Ph.D. in Education at the University of California, Los Angeles and M.A. in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. 

As a professor in Asian American Studies and Education, I regularly teach courses that guide students to think through issues of race, equity and social justice.  I have noticed a trend that reoccurs in my classrooms, regardless of the course: the exclusion of Asian Americans, including those who are U.S.-born and particularly those who are international students.  I commonly rely on small group discussion in class and while such a method often facilitates collaborative learning, in many cases Asian American students literally sit on the outside of the discussion circles formed by their classmates and are prompted to join only when I intervene.  The hesitancy for both white students and students of color to work with their Asian American peers is expressed by the body language and aversion to eye contact that physically signal to Asian American students that they are not welcome to the circle, largely based on reciprocal misperceptions that there will be difficulties in communication.  The interactions are awkward, uncomfortable, and laden with racial presumptions of Asian American students.  For example, quite frequently white students and students of color accuse Asian Americans of being too shy or unwilling to participate, without taking responsibility for their part in the inability for critical cross-racial interaction to occur or recognizing the structural factors that shape such behaviors.

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Paul C. Gorski is an associate professor of Integrative Studies in George Mason University’s New Century College, where he teaches classes on class and poverty, educational equity, animal rights, and environmental justice. He recentedly designed the new Social Justice undergraduate program and minor there as well. He has been an active consultant, presenter, and trainer for nearly twenty years, conducting workshops and providing guidance to schools and community organizations committed to equity and diversity. He created and continues to maintain the Multicultural Pavilion, an award winning Web site focused on critical multicultural education. Paul is serving his second term on the board of directors of the International Association for Intercultural Education (IAIE). He has published four books and more than 40 articles in publications such as Educational Leadership, Equity and Excellence in Education,Rethinking Schools, Teaching and Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, and Teaching Tolerance. Prior to his current position Paul taught for the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland, and Hamline University. He continues to publish and present in education-focused forums on topics including white privilege and racism, anti-poverty education and economic justice, and multicultural organizational transformation. He lives in Washington, DC, with his cats, Unity and Buster.

For years I have been dissatisfied with many popular frameworks for talking about diversity and equity in schools, nearly all of which—cultural competence, cultural proficiency, intercultural communications, multiculturalism—tend to  put culture rather than equity at the center of the conversation. Sure, every educator should learn as much as possible about the cultures of individual students. But knowing a little bit about Mexican or Mexican American culture does very little to prepare us to see and respond effectively to bias or inequity—especially to the most subtle bias and inequity.

Nowhere is the “culture” obsession more dangerous than in the ways in which teachers generally are taught to think about poverty. This is especially, devastatingly, true given the baffling popularity of the “culture of poverty” approach for understanding low-income students’ experiences. I call it baffling because the idea that we can assume anything at all about a student based on a single dimension of her or his identity or that all people in the hugely diverse population of people in poverty universally share the same beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors is nonsensical.

The excerpt below, taken from my recent book, Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap (Teachers College Press, 2013), describes what I call Equity Literacy, a framework first used by my super-genius colleague, Katy Swalwell, to describe a kind of literacy youth should learn in school. I built on her conception of Equity Literacy to include the skills and consciousness with which teachers ought to be equipped in order to create equitable learning environments for students and families in poverty.

Introducing Equity Literacy

I came to define Equity Literacy as the skills and understandings that enable us to recognize, respond to, and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers and, in doing so, sustain equitable learning environments for all students and families.

The Equity Literacy framework borrows some of its principles from other approaches for thinking about diversity in schools including resiliency theory, diversity pedagogy theory, funds of knowledge theory, and cultural proficiency. What distinguishes Equity Literacy, broadly speaking, from these and other popular frameworks is Equity Literacy’s recognition that the problem is not primarily cultural. The issue before us, as we attempt to create more effective learning environments for low-income students, is not culture, but equity. I can learn everything I want to know about this or that culture, but doing so is not going to help me spot subtle bias in learning materials or help me realize the injustice at play when schools eliminate arts and music programs, which are known to help low-income students achieve academically.

The Ten Principles of Equity Literacy

The principles of Equity Literacy are the consciousness behind the framework. Each principle is based on research about congruence between what educators believe about, and their effectiveness working with, low-income students and families. Read more

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Rico Gutstein is a mathematics education professor in the Curriculum and Instruction department of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He writes and teaches about critical and Freirean pedagogies, and mathematics and urban education policy. Rico has taught middle and high school mathematics in Chicago public schools and is the author of Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice (2006). He also co-edited Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers (2nd Ed) (2013). Rico is a founding member of Teachers for Social Justice (Chicago) and is active in the movement against education privatization. 

My practice and research focus on teaching and learning mathematics for social justice (“critical mathematics”). For me, this means to prepare students to learn and use mathematics to study social reality and fight injustice, so that they can change what they believe is wrong. Because of that, I always consider how these processes within schools and classrooms interconnect with the broader sociopolitical contexts in which we live. This stance leads me to write this blog post by drawing on Fanon and Freire, who always studied the dialectical relationships between phenomena. And, I write it from the perspective of an activist scholar, living and working in Chicago, an often-violent city whose culturally and spiritually strong and resilient working-class communities of color are under the devastating attack of neoliberal capitalism—austerity, school and health clinic closings, massive displacement and gentrification, environmental racism, and much more. If my views seem extreme or constrained it may be because the stark polarization and ever-increasing inequalities are front and center for so many of the city’s residents—injustice is everywhere in the air here.

Fanon, a revolutionary and psychiatrist, analyzed the terrible violence of colonialism inflicted upon Algerians during their war of independence from France (and the psychic damage to the French perpetrators as well). He wrote that ground-down, oppressed people sometimes take out their righteous anger on wrong targets and wreak havoc on themselves and their community. This is beyond tragic. Read more

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Ananda Marin is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from the School of Education & Social Policy at Northwestern. She has over a decade of experience working with families and students in community centers, museums, and community colleges. She served as Assistant Dean of Student Services at Harry S. Truman College where she worked closely with the Office of Instruction on classroom redesign projects and retention efforts. At the Chicago Children’s Museum she participated in the exhibit development process and co-facilitated a supplemental reading program with partner schools. Her current research focuses on the intersections between culture, development, orientations to the natural world, and science teaching and learning. In her dissertation she examined the relationship between attention, mobility, and learning about the natural world. She is currently engaged in a collaborative research project between the American Indian Center of Chicago, the Menominee Language and Culture Commission, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington. This community-based design research project aims to create science learning environments based on youth and families’ community practices. As a project member, she has served as a researcher, curriculum designer, and teacher.

Diversity in the sciences is essential if we are to address issues related to the use and distribution of natural resources in innovative and equitable ways. Today, conversations around environmental sustainability, food sovereignty, and climate change are prevalent in many Indigenous communities. For Indigenous peoples meeting the challenges posed by climate change is directly related to participation in the sciences among tribal members and descendants. However, American Indian and Alaska Natives are under-represented in the sciences. Educators and researchers have generated multiple theories to explain this under-representation, including the high rates at which Native students drop out of high school, limited mentorship opportunities, and limited post-baccalaureate funding [i].  While these explanations are informative and point us towards possible solutions, I have come to see success in the sciences through a different framework. Since 2005, I have participated in a community-based design research project. This collaborative project engaged community members and university researchers from the American Indian Center of Chicago, the Menominee Nation, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington in the design of culturally-based science programming. This work has taken a different approach to Indigenous representation in the sciences and asked how epistemologies, or ways of knowing, embedded in instructional environments and materials may impact achievement and ultimately career paths in the sciences among Native students [ii]. Read more

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Dr. Verónica Nelly Vélez is an Assistant Professor and the Founding Director of the Education and Social Justice Minor at Western Washington University (WWU). Before joining WWU, Verónica worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and the Director of Public Programming at the Center for Latino Policy Research at UC Berkeley. Her research interests include Critical Race Theory and Latina/o Critical Theory in Education, the politics of parent engagement in educational reform, particularly for Latina/o (im)migrant families, participatory action and community-based models of research, and the use of GIS technologies to further a critical race research agenda on the study of space and educational (in)opportunity. Verónica presents workshops nationally on how to employ GIS critically in educational research and visual literacy projects seeking social and spatial justice. In addition to her scholarly work, Verónica serves as a consultant for several grassroots and non-profit organizations throughout California, building upon her work as a community organizer for over 15 years. She received her Ph.D. in Education from UCLA with a specialization in race and ethnic studies, under the mentorship of Dr. Daniel Solorzano. Verónica is the proud daughter of a Mexican (im)migrant mother and a Panamanian (Im)migrant father, whose journey to provide her and her sister with a quality education fundamentally inspires Verónica’s work for social justice.

When my graduate school advisor encouraged me to take a course in geographic information systems (GIS), I happily obliged.  Although unclear at the time how GIS’ ability to analyze and display data on a map would assist my work as an educational researcher on issues of equity and opportunity, or as a grassroots organizer focused on political advocacy in Latina/o immigrant communities, the thought of building a new, and unexpected, skill set was enough to motivate me to enroll.  Surrounded by my graduate school peers in urban planning, geography, and public policy, I was awe-struck by the high-tech visual spectacle of GIS maps and the possibilities for creatively applying its analytical tools. My peers’ professional interests in using GIS for neighborhood revitalization projects and city planning provided me opportunities to consider GIS as an effective visual tool for communicating data to diverse groups of stakeholders. Not only did GIS make data accessible through maps, it made it easier for targeted audiences to connect with the maps by displaying data in a relative context and in a familiar format, given the accessibility and use of maps in everyday life. GIS thus made possible, at least in theory, the inclusion of voices in key decision-making (e.g., policy or otherwise) that had previously been absent. Yet despite my growing appreciation of GIS as an innovative data visualization and communication tool, I still questioned how its strengths would translate into practice—my work in education.

Fast-forward several months to a planning meeting of a group of Latina immigrant mothers in Los Angeles County. Originating from Mexico and Central America, the mothers had come together organically to raise concerns about their children’s schools and mobilize community-based reform.  Over the course of ten years, they had inserted themselves in school decision-making by joining school site councils and district-level task forces, among other things.  School board elections were around the corner and the mothers were organizing a community forum to bring together elected officials, candidates, and community members to address concerns of educational opportunity and access for the school-aged population living in a particular neighborhood within their school district, comprised mainly of Latina/o and African-American families.  For years as an ally to their efforts, I witnessed the mothers rebuffed at school board meetings when they highlighted the relationship between race, space, and educational opportunity.  At these meetings, they courageously shared example after example of how their own children were denied access to gatekeeper programs and courses (e.g., gifted and talented education programs, courses required for college), if such were even offered in their children’s schools.  Their pleas were written off as anecdotal and unsubstantiated by district officials.  The mothers knew about my “mapping” class and approached me with an idea:  Can maps help us show that race and ethnicity continue to impact the opportunities our children receive in schools?  Given their experiences, the mothers saw potential in GIS.  Despite their own critiques of how data were used at district-level meetings to silence the everyday conditions and practices that marginalized their children, they believed that GIS, with its convincing displays of information, could be re-imagined for legitimatizing their narratives and centering their voices in school decision-making. Read more

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