Equity & Diversity

From College Advising to Teacher Preparation: Affirmative Action Ruling May Reshape K-12

By Eesha Pendharkar — July 14, 2023 6 min read
Demonstrators protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington on June 29, 2023, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, saying race cannot be a factor.
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Though directly aimed at college admissions policies, the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action stands to affect a host of K-12 issues, including diversity initiatives, access to high-level courses, and teacher preparation.

The decision may be an opportunity for institutions to walk back their efforts to repair racial inequities in the U.S., warns Travis Bristol, an associate professor of teacher education and education policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I think throughout the K-12 system, we will continue to see the ripple effects of this very narrow decision by the Supreme Court,” Bristol said.

Here are some ways in which the Supreme Court’s decision may impact K-12 schools.

Decision could challenge commitment to DEI in schools and beyond

Affirmative action, in the context of Supreme Court cases, is the consideration of race when admissions offices are reviewing student applications. But it more generally provided opportunities to groups that have been historically marginalized and disadvantaged, including in K-12 contexts.

Experts who work in college counseling, teacher preparation, and nonprofits fostering racial equity for students told EdWeek that it would be up to individual schools districts and foundations to keep their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which includes a host of efforts to diversify who applies to college, improve academic resources for underserved students, hire diverse teachers, and ensure students receive training and mentorship.

That commitment has already been challenged the past few years in the form of backlash against equity initiatives, and challenges to books about race and racism, the experts said.

They fear that the decision could be interpreted as a message from the federal government for districts and other educational nonprofit organizations to not longer pursue those efforts, according to Ben Ralston, CEO of the Sachs Foundation, a nonprofit organization fostering equity in education for Black students and teachers in Colorado.

“The Supreme Court ruling [could be seen as a] federal mandate to move to ... [a] race-blind idea of society, which isn’t reasonable given that we’ve never actually done the work to reduce the inequity in schools,” Ralston said.

School counselors should also prepare students that college applications will be more reliant upon personal essays, Ralston said.

The amount of resources schools will factor into higher education access for students

All students aiming to go to college will have to focus more on academics due to the affirmative action decision, experts told EdWeek. But how well students do will likely depend on what resources their districts provide—unless districts are intentional about working to undo the work, allowing for longstanding racial inequities in student achievement to persist, experts said.

Districts should start preparing students to excel academically even before high school, which can include offering more advanced classes starting at the middle school level, according to Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, a Bay Area based tutoring company.

“I think schools that have better resources, they’re going to be able to produce literature and have workshops [for students on how to handle college admissions post decision], and maybe help navigate some of these issues,” Koh said. “But not every school will be able to do that.”

Which students are represented in Advanced Placement classes can also be an equity issue, said Cheryl Scott-Mouzon, a counselor at IvyWise, an educational consulting agency. Districts will need to examine whether they’re proactively offering advanced classes to students of color, and correct course if they find that white students are overrepresented in those classes relative to the district’s population.

Finally, Koh and Scott-Mouzon said that all students, but especially students of color, may have to highlight the hardships they may have faced in their personal essays, which might be linked to their ethnic or racial background.

“The troublesome thing to me is, why must a student of color have to shine an undue spotlight on something they might not want to talk about, but now they feel obligated to?,” Scott-Mouzon said.

In its decision, the Supreme Court indicated that students could highlight their racial or ethnic backgrounds in their college essays.

“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his written opinion.

Families with means could also start looking into private schools, if those schools might offer them more academic opportunities, she said.

See Also

Supporters of school vouchers rally in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 24, in hopes of persuading state lawmakers to approve a voucher program that would provide public money to families to help pay tuition at private and religious schools.
Supporters of school vouchers rally in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 24, in hopes of persuading state lawmakers to approve a voucher program that would provide public money to families to help pay tuition at private and religious schools.
Associated Press

Programs that support Black students may rethink their approach

Black students in K-12 districts will be particularly impacted, because of the message the Supreme Court has sent about race-blind admissions, said Ralston from the Sachs Foundation.

The Sachs Foundation runs a program that offers mentorship and educational opportunities to 176 Black male students across Colorado. The program is heavily focused on access to higher education for students, including offering them college counseling, tours of colleges, and opportunities to attend academic and cultural events. It also allows them to take unpaid internships by paying students a stipend during those internships, Ralston said.

The program also offers assistance with food, technology, and internet access if students or their families need it. If families are at risk of losing housing or need money for car repairs, the foundation provides financial assistance with that as well, he said.

“For us, the equity part of it is just identifying the fact that Black students have been marginalized historically,” Ralston said. “And so we are trying to do the work to increase their exposure to things that they may not have already gotten the opportunity to explore. A lot of that has to do with access to higher education.”

Begun in 2011, the program has recently been jeopardized because of the “critical race theory” backlash that prompted several districts to cut ties with the foundation, and the affirmative action ruling.

Ralston said institutions named in the Supreme Court case (such as Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) are going to be a little bit less accessible to Ralston’s students than they were due to the decision, he said. The college and career counselor at Sachs will be adjusting guidance to stress historically Black colleges and universities more heavily going forward, he said.

Diversity in teacher preparation programs might be at risk

Although the court’s ruling dealt with undergraduate admissions, it might put diversity in graduate-level teacher preparation programs at risk, Bristol from UC Berkeley said.

“I fear that ... it will give license to individuals, foundations, and school districts who never truly believed that an ethnoracially diverse teacher workforce was important,” he said. “And so they’ll believe that now they have license to end programs and initiatives aimed at diversifying the educator workforce.”

School districts, he predicted, might cut back on recruitment efforts aimed at diversifying their educated workforce, even though the ruling does not mention hiring policies for educators, he said.

As America’s student population diversifies, teachers remain predominantly white. Research has shown that students of color benefit from having teachers who represent their racial or ethnic background, he said.

“They should not feel that they need to make adjustments because of the political climate,” he said. “They should lead with the evidence and continue their diversity efforts because the science and the research says that having a diverse teacher workforce, increases learning and reduces suspensions.”

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