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October 28, 2015 2

Now More Than Ever: Why We Need to Address Inequity and Justice in Schools

Diverse-students-holding-sign-lets-talk-equityWe live in an increas­ingly plu­ral­is­tic, mul­ti­cul­tural and con­nected world. In order to pre­pare stu­dents to live, learn and even­tu­ally work suc­cess­fully in soci­ety, we need to pre­pare them.  Diver­sity in the United States is rapidly increas­ing, espe­cially among young peo­ple enter­ing our school sys­tem. 2014 was the first school year when more chil­dren of color were enrolled in U.S. pub­lic schools than white chil­dren. How­ever, the diver­sity of our teach­ing force is stub­bornly stag­nant at 80% white and, fur­ther, between 2002 and 2012 there was a decline in the num­ber of African Amer­i­can teach­ers in nine major cities, includ­ing the three largest school dis­tricts. Of all the teach­ers in the U.S., only 2% are black and male.

Over the past year, pub­lic con­scious­ness around insti­tu­tional and implicit forms of bias has been ele­vated and there is a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about the ways our soci­ety needs to progress fur­ther towards a “more per­fect union.” The pub­lic aware­ness about the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem includ­ing the recent deaths of men of color at the hands of the police, have pro­vided con­vinc­ing evi­dence that injus­tice per­sists. For all of the great gains we have made leg­isla­tively over the past sixty years, includ­ing this past year, there is still much work to be done: the gen­der wage gap, trans­pho­bia, vot­ing sup­pres­sion and restric­tions  that tar­get peo­ple of color, stu­dents and the elderly, anti-Semitism around the world. inces­sant anti-immigrant hate­ful rhetoric com­ing from reg­u­lar cit­i­zens and law­mak­ers and depend­ing on what state you live in, hate crimes laws that are either incom­plete or non-existent.

The struc­tural inequities in soci­ety also exist in our edu­ca­tional sys­tem. School re-segregation has resur­faced in a major way. In 1972, after years of fed­eral enforce­ment fol­low­ing Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion, 25% of black stu­dents in the South attended highly seg­re­gated schools; between 1990 and 2011, 53% of black stu­dents across the coun­try now attend such schools. In addi­tion, the per­sis­tent racial and socioe­co­nomic achieve­ment and oppor­tu­nity gaps and the racial dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity in school dis­ci­pline prac­tices (e.g. Black stu­dents are sus­pended three times the rate of white chil­dren) that leads to the “School to Prison Pipeline” threat­ens the abil­ity of all stu­dents to get a fair and just education.

When diver­sity is not under­stood, val­ued or respected, this can lead to inter­group ten­sion both in schools and society—manifesting as identity-based bul­ly­ing and bias, scape­goat­ing, stereo­typ­ing, dis­crim­i­na­tion, microag­gres­sions, implicit bias, the school to prison pipeline and expres­sions of hate that can lead to vio­lence and death.

Young peo­ple under­stand what is hap­pen­ing and want to be part of the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion we are hav­ing about jus­tice, equity and racism in soci­ety. And sev­eral national orga­ni­za­tions agree. Since June 2015, four of the most promi­nent edu­ca­tional institutions–the National Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NEA), Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT) , Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tional Research Asso­ci­a­tion (AERA) and National Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish (NCTE)–have all made state­ments and res­o­lu­tions or issued reports that affirm the need for address­ing equity in schools and soci­ety, specif­i­cally rec­om­mend­ing that we high­light the “sys­temic pat­terns of inequity—racism and edu­ca­tional injustice—that impacts our stu­dents and tak­ing action to enhance access and oppor­tu­nity for our stu­dents.” and “pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and cul­tural com­pe­tency train­ing that helps teach­ers and other school staff under­stand their own per­sonal biases.”

The goal of anti-bias edu­ca­tion is to do just. By focus­ing on the devel­op­ment of an inclu­sive cul­ture and respect­ful school cli­mate, address­ing issues of bias and bul­ly­ing in schools and class­rooms, ini­ti­at­ing these rel­e­vant and timely con­ver­sa­tions with young peo­ple about the inequities in soci­ety and devel­op­ing a more cul­tur­ally respon­sive cur­ricu­lum, we teach young peo­ple that they can make a dif­fer­ence in their schools, soci­ety and world.

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