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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are We Accurately Confronting Inequity?

By Sean Slade — May 02, 2017 5 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Sean Slade, Senior Director of Global Outreach for ASCD, and host of the Whole Child Symposium.

Inequity is confronting and needs to be confronted. It is injurious when you experience it and it is jarring when you witness it. Inequity is on display in education when schools fail to provide access to similar opportunities or when schools fail to provide similar resources. Inequities are apparent via policies and interactions that marginalize one group over another. Inequities exist in the same city, the same district or too often in the same school.

A recently released report from GLSEN showcased the repercussions of policies, actions and behavior in the school setting that are negatively impacting LGBTQ students. The biennial National School Climate Survey of over 10,000 youth from across all 50 states illustrates that LGBTQ students still feel marginalized, harassed and victimized. It should also be noted that this survey took place in 2015 before last year’s infamous North Carolina Bathroom Bill passed in March of 2016 and before Gavin Grimm - a LGBTQ youth advocate - became a household name.

  • 85% of LGBTQ students have experienced verbal harassment based on a personal characteristic
  • 32% of LGBTQ students missed at least one day of school in the last month, and over a third avoided bathrooms (39%)
  • 56% of LGBTQ students have heard homophobic remarks
  • 64% of LGBTQ students have heard negative remarks from school staff
  • 58% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation
  • 27.0% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed.

As a result LGBTQ youth who experienced LGBT-related discrimination at school were three times more likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and school belonging, and higher levels of depression. LGBTQ youth are also twice as likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers (CDC, 2017).

Inequity is confronting.
In June of last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released new data from the 2013-14 schoolyear showing gaps that remain too wide in key areas affecting educational equity and opportunity for students. 2013-14, when the data was sourced, was the nascent of the Black Lives Matter movement and prior to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City that sparked national attention and dialogue around racism and privilege.

The Civil Rights Data Collection outlined that:

  • Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as are white preschool students.
  • In kindergarten through the 12 grade, black students are nearly four times as likely to be
  • suspended as are white students. Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be
  • expelled--removed from school with no services--as are white students.
  • Schools with large numbers of black and Latino students offered fewer classes in calculus, algebra II, chemistry and physics
  • Black and Latino students participate at lower rates in Gifted and Talented Education programs
  • Black and Latino students are more likely to attend schools with 1st year teachers
  • 1.6 mil. students attend a school with a law enforcement officer but not a school counselor.

Inequity is confronting. But it can also be confronted.
Confronting inequity starts with calling it out, highlighting it, and uncovering it when it occurs. Changing policy - especially antiquated or counterproductive policy - is necessary. Too often actions at the school or district level are forced by unyielding policy - policy that creates or enhances inequity. If we as educators know that a policy is affecting the growth and development, both academically as well as socially and emotionally of our students then don’t we have an obligation to rectify that policy? If we as educators know that the language, actions, and behavior of our peers or our students in the school setting can affect not only the educational outcomes of our students but also the outcomes of their lives, then don’t we have an obligation to rectify that?

We as educators have a choice on how safe, supportive and connected we make our classrooms. Via our interactions with students the climate of that environment is developed. The norms of behavior are created and the standard of interaction is established. Every school and every classroom has a climate and it is either established on purpose or it is adopted by proxy. We either own it or we abdicate responsibility.

The biennial National School Climate Survey from GLSEN cited previously however also found that schools that were deliberately more accepting of LGBTQ youth were also safer and more supportive environments and their students identified less harassment.

Students in schools with an LGBT-inclusive curriculum for example reported they were less likely, to hear derogatory remarks; to feel unsafe; to miss school in the past month; and to say they might not graduate high school; and felt more connected to their school. Similarly students in schools with supportive educators and supportive school policies were, less likely to feel discriminated; more likely to report issues and incidents; and more likely to feel connected to their school and education.

This may not be a cure for all inequities but the school cultures we create can act as both a preventive inoculation and an antidote.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman, until recently the principal of Strawberry Mansion High School in Pennsylvania, has spoken about the inequities she encountered as a youth growing up in a low socio economic, majority minority neighborhood in Philadelphia and also the same inequities she experienced many years later as principal in the same circumstances in the same environment. Her solution? Lead fearlessly, love hard.

I do not know all the answers, but what I do know is for those of us who are privileged and have the responsibility of leading a school that serves children in poverty, we must truly lead, and when we are faced with unbelievable challenges, we must stop and ask ourselves, "So what. Now what? What are we going to do about it?" And as we lead, we must never forget that every single one of our students is just a child, often scared by what the world tells them they should be, and no matter what the rest of the world tells them they should be, we should always provide them with hope, our undivided attention, unwavering belief in their potential, consistent expectations, and we must tell them often, if nobody told them they loved them today, remember we do, and we always will.

Video //www.ted.com/talks/linda_cliatt_wayman_how_to_fix_a_broken_school_lead_fearlessly_love_hard

On the evening of May 10th ASCD will host a free Whole Child Symposium at American University and streamed online on the topic of Confronting Inequity. Speakers include Jose Vilson, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, Paul Gorski, Montserrat Garibay, and Eliza Byard. To attend, watch and to find out more details go to www.ascd.org/wcsymposium

Sean Slade co-authored Climate Change: How Do I Build a Positive Environment for Learning (ASCD. 2014.) with Peter DeWitt.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.