School Climate & Safety Opinion

We Need Diversity at the Leadership Table

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 29, 2016 6 min read
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We welcome Bonnie Bracey Sutton as today’s guest blogger. She is an educational advocate for digital equity. Presently she is working with underserved students in Anacostia (a poor section in DC) Joint Educational Facilities program, and the Global Forest Initiative which links US and Russian teams. She is a curator of resources for teachers and an advocate of STEM for all students.

As we probe diversity in the field of technology, minority involvement and inclusion in leadership seems to be a missing ingredient in the educational uses of and framing of technology in learning. I’ve thought and carefully asked, “Do minorities have permission to utilize and innovate using transformational pedagogy?” I have been working in the field for some time. I served on the committee that framed the opportunities for the use of technology in America with the Clinton administration. I served on George Lucas’s Edutopia Advisory Board. There were opportunities to create possibilities for minorities in both of those positions. At one time there was Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) a grant program from the Department of Education. It addressed a growing challenge in modern education yet nearly all elementary and secondary schools are now “wired” to the Internet, but there are teachers who still feel uncomfortable using technology in their teaching and leaders in their leading.

I Asked A Mentor What The Problem Could Be
Dr. Chris Dede, Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard told me:

My thoughts are that learning technologies have the potential to make a big difference in closing the achievement gap. However, we as a field have not produced scalable, sustainable educational models that use technology to do this. As a result, people whose first priority is helping at-risk students often put their time and effort elsewhere, leading to a lack of diversity in many learning technologies initiatives.

I Asked A Friend Who Taught In A Minority-Serving Institution What He Thought The Problem Could Be
Ray M. Rose, online learning pioneer told me:

When you look at where we prepare our minority students to become educators the HBCU’s play a large part in that effort. What I found, as faculty in an educator prep program in an HBCU was that the future teachers were interested in working in high-minority settings helping at-risk students. That is not a path to either instructional or information technology. I also had problems getting other faculty to willingly incorporate preparing future teachers to use new technologies. There was an instructional technology course (mine) so there was no need to integrate technology into the other courses...

...We need to find ways to increase the diversity of people entering the instructional and information technology areas. Unfortunately, when I see well qualified minorities in the field, I also see them being lured into high tech opportunities at significantly higher salaries...

...We need to have a multi-tiered approach that heightens the awareness of teacher education faculty to the need and opportunities in learning technologies, in minority- serving organizations, to reach the students within those programs, and to encourage educators to see the learning technologies as an exciting and worthy career track.

The FCC is Creating a Life Line

The FCC is creating more possibilities for access. Access and practice create ability. Innovation and creativity in learning are more available but many minority teachers are only passively involved in the use of technology. There are wonderful free resources online to use if teachers have permission to use them.

School Boards are Pro-Active with National Leadership
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is providing a window into majority-minority schools with examples. They have hosted education technology site visits for nearly 30 years. For many of those years, hosts were often suburban districts that were early adopters of technology and had the both the desire to share what they had learned and the staff time and resources to commit to the planning and execution of a visit. The end of April and early May always drew the largest crowds for our visits, but not so far this year. Ann Flynn, Director of Educational Technology for the NSBA queried in an article,

What has changed? When I learned both 2016 sites in Delaware and Arizona had majority minority student enrollments, I was thrilled that we were breaking with our decades-long pattern. I hoped these sites might have an even broader appeal to educators with similar student demographics in their own districts. Sadly, that has not yet been the case nor have we attracted the usual cross-section from our previous participating districts. With the increasingly divisive rhetoric about race in the national debates, it makes me wonder if the districts’ demographics have an impact on the decision to attend? Report after report cites the difficulties of minority groups in the use of technology. Rural, urban, distant, tribal, special needs, and poor communities are not bridging the gap.

The Leadership Conference asked Parents
Laura Mosher wrote in Slate

The “New Education Majority” poll from the Leadership Conference Education Fund is so important: because it directly asks the parents and caregivers of these no-longer-minority kids about their priorities and problems with the U.S. education system. The poll of 400 black and 400 Latino caregivers of varying income levels (the poll left out Asian American and Native American parents “due to resource constraints”) found that most of these parents are aware of the well-documented race-based disparities in schools: 66 percent of black parents and 45 percent of Latino parents “reject the notion that students in their communities receive as good an education as White students.” They’d also like to see much higher expectations set for black and Latino students, including those from low-income communities.

The Christian Science Monitor took note of the problem in an article by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo where she posits: For the first time, classrooms in public schools are filled mostly by non-white students. The concerns of minority parents could change American school and education policies. But who decides the policy?

Technology is moving on to the Internet of things...while many communities are without the first step. Access. Application and intent and use can make a difference. But the involvement of diverse members of minority groups might be a window of opportunity to better involvement and more equitable use of technology for students. What works for minorities, rural, poor, tribal, and urban is often not decided with the inclusion of educators or leaders who know the learning landscape for the groups being funded. When real leaders of groups are involved in initiatives, what is created has a better fit. Do your schools have diversity in leadership?

More about Bonnie:
Bonnie’s path to US involvement in technology and STEM was through participation with teacher affinity groups. These groups supplied mentors, resources, knowledge and networks of national educators. Significant was the Challenger Center in Space Science Education. NASA supplied the vision of the future and groups to work with.

National Geographic linked new technologies and involvement with institute trainings and student programs and STEM. The National Education Association awarded to a group of us minorities, the Christa McAuliffe Educator Award, for pioneering diversity outreach in national outreach in conferences and initiatives. President Clinton appointed her to the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council and served as the first director of the 21st Century Teacher Network (Clinton Administration). Bonnie has worked in 34 countries teaching technology including Russia, for the Eurasian Foundation.

Photo 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.