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We can bring racial equity to our schools. It requires work.



We need a shift from “fixing kids” to fixing the social environment in schools

racism, equality, kids, school

As the recent protests around police brutality have revealed, ignoring racism throughout our society comes with a steep price. One of the places injustice has to be addressed is the education system. Many students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are marginalized unjustly by educator biases, according to Social, Emotional, and AcademicDevelopment Through an Equity Lensa report issued by The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that advocates for equality in education.

Rather than the current focus on “fixing” students' social-emotional skills, the system needs to address the societal context that launches many such students into the school-to-prison pipeline. From changing school policies to addressing the inherent prejudice of teachers and principals, the report lays out steps to foster belonging for all students.

No one denies that social-emotional learning is a significant part of education and needs support from schools. However, the report states, “social-emotional learning efforts that exclusively focus on changing student behavior may do more harm than good by placing the burden on students of color to respond positively to systemic injustices.”

True support places students' strengths above their perceived deficits. Marginalized students often display resilience and self-awareness; have highly developed skills at code-switching or adapting to different social contexts; and maintain strong, sometimes multi-lingual, community connections. A student who falls behind academically because of the need to care for a relative, for example, should be praised for shouldering family responsibilities. “With this positive mindset,” the report observes, “school leaders can then work with students and their families to identify the unique combination of supports needed for students to exhibit that strength both at home and in school.”

Educators have been shown to excuse errant behavior in white students while disciplining students of color for the same behavior. The implicit bias reflected by these actions can addressed by putting restorative justice policies in place and cultivating a positive school environment that considers all cultures, not just the dominant white culture. 

Parents should demand that school boards take these issues into account when considering policies and hiring superintendents. Well-informed parents of all ethnic groups, including the white majority, can educate the public at school board meetings and vote for board member candidates who express support for racial equity measures.



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