Equity & Diversity Opinion

Can Schools Be Inclusive? Examine The Data.

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 14, 2017 3 min read
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We can just look around and see examples of exclusivity, all those places where only like-minded people or those with some other shared characteristic are welcome. Meanwhile, public schools struggle to be inclusive. Back in the day when the nation was distinguished by being a melting pot, it was the public school that made all the difference in who we were as a people.

Questioning beliefs is not a bad thing, in fact it might even be a good thing. Reexamining past practice helps to update, modernize, refine some aspects of our profession and abandon others. However, beginning the examination process with accusation and fear is not a good launch. As we’ve shared before, we believe what is happening in the world outside of schools will arrive within our walls without warning, in invisible or eruptive ways. It isn’t urgent but it is important for leaders to pay attention to what is happening in the larger world. Public school leaders must be vigilant in their struggle to be fair and just in the treatment of students. Schools still level the playing field, making sure access to quality teaching and high standards exist for all students. Yet, an eye on Washington now and then send out warnings. We note an action by the federal government that will provoke fear and bias in the public, bias against white students.

How many students do you believe were denied college admission because they were white? Charlie Savage of the NY Times reports :

The Supreme Court has ruled that the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body can justify using race as one factor among many in a “holistic” evaluation, while rejecting blunt racial quotas or race-based point systems. But what that permits in actual practice by universities -- public ones as well as private ones that receive federal funding -- is often murky.

This past summer people who are transgender and their families smarted from the announcement by the president to exclude them from the military (which was rebuked by the armed forces). Things like these affect the public, and the students in our schools, in untold ways. The most frustrating is that reaction to these one by one shredding actions is not only seen directly, but in other behaviors also.

Expressing frustration or anger can happen within homes and other gathering places. And what about law enforcement? The announcement by the president (which was rebuked by police officials) to be less respectful of an accused’s civil rights was another veiled shot at minorities. Now a subtle accusation that black students are taking the place of white students in colleges will only add fuel to the growing fire.

These are certainly sad possibilities but such good leadership lessons. Affirmative action has a meritorious purpose and its implementation is worthy of study. School leaders attempt to base actions and decision on data. Where is the data about the effect of transgender members within the military or bathroom use in schools? Or is the slippery slope moving toward the opinions and feelings of leaders is the only data necessary to legitimize exclusivity? As public school leaders, the affect these issues have on learning and placement and discipline is worthy of study, not a conclusion in search of data, but an honest amount of data to inform a conclusion.

Opening Questions for Leaders

  1. How many high school guidance counselors have questioned the rejection of a white student from a college of their choice?
  2. How many college acceptance committees have failed to choose a white student from a group of equally qualified applicants, accepting the black student instead? Is that wrong?
  3. How many of those black students accepted instead of white students have completed their college education?
  4. Of those who didn’t, was it a matter of scholarship or finance?
  5. Do LGBT students, students of color and their families feel as community members? How are they thought about and treated?
  6. Do we know the answers to these questions? Do we even know how to find them?
  7. How many leaders worked with their community to dig into the fears, beliefs, and misconceptions that drive their beliefs and decisions?

When mandates come from afar, it is obvious, clear, and usually resented. But these actions from Washington and state capitals may enter schools stealthily. We can’t anticipate every storm and we may grow weary of trying. But, the ground of civil rights seems to be shaking and it merits watching.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by johnhain courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.