Continuing to Advocate
for Enhanced Equity
Equity within the school system has been a focal point within many of my public comments, both at School Board and City Council meetings. I have received quite a bit of commentary in response, both supportive and critical. The word EQUITY has a tendency to stir up a lot of opinions and I can understand why. I do want to assert that I support equity work as it works to eliminate barriers to full potential. Currently, systems are not equitable, including the educational system.
REPRESENTATION AMONG TEACHERS & ADMIN
We need our teachers and admin to represent our learner population. Nationwide, half of the student population identifies as nonwhite yet 80% of the teachers are white. Here in Minnesota, 95% of our teachers are white and 34% of the student population are nonwhite. Research has shown that representation among teachers is beneficial, not only to nonwhite learners, but ALL learners.
Farmington specifically needs to increase the number of nonwhite teachers AND administrators. Currently, 25.26% of the learner population identify as an ethnicity or race other than white. Each year since 2016 the population of nonwhite learners has increased by 1-2%. According to the data collected by the State of Minnesota, 3.9% of teachers STATE WIDE identified as an ethnicity/race other than white during the 2019-2020 school year. For the 2020-2021 school year, the number of teachers who identified as an ethnicity/race other than white was 3. The number of teachers DECREASED the next year. As for district administration, 0 identified as an ethnicity/race other than white during the 2019-2020 school year and 1 female identified as an ethnicity/race other than white during the 2020-2021 school year. This is NOT representation for our learners. If we want our teaching and administrative staff to accurately reflect our leaner population then we need 117 nonwhite teachers and 5 nonwhite administrative staff.
Numerous research has shown that having a diverse teaching staff not only benefits nonwhite learners, but white learners as well. Why? In an article published by Brookings (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2022/02/28/prioritize-educator-diversity-to-address-racial-injustices/), the authors cite three reasons, advocating for enhanced representation among teachers.
Teachers of color make a lasting impact on students of color.
Teachers of color help build a representative school bureaucracy.
Teachers of color help promote tolerance among all students.
The article ends with, "Having a diverse and representative teaching force will enable every month to be Black History Month, as Black history is American history and can’t be overlooked or shoehorned into a specific subset of the curriculum. Having a racially and ethnically diverse and representative teaching force will ensure that students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences are valued, respected, and utilized in the classroom to produce positive outcomes for all students."
It's imperative that our teaching and administrative staff reflect our learner population because ALL learners can benefit from the positive effects a diverse teaching and administrative staff brings.
(Teacher/Admin demographic data found on https://mn.gov/pelsb/board/data/)
DISCIPLINE DISPARITY BETWEEN RACE/ETHNICITY
Did you know that all schools that receive federal funding are required to report on learner discipline from grades preschool to 12? This includes in-school and out-of-school suspensions, corporal punishment (yes, it's still legal in some states), referrals to law enforcement, school related arrests, restraining and seclusions, harassment and bullying (identifying who made the reports based on sex, race/ethnicity/culture, and/or disability), school days missed due to an out-of-school suspension, transfers to an alternative school, the different types of offenses, and expulsions. Research has shown that nonwhite learners are disproportionally punished compared to white learners. Data shows that Farmington is no different.
According to the data found on MN's Department of Education website, nonwhite students are disciplined at a higher percentage than their white peers. Please see the data below:
As you can see, the numbers and percentages are not congruent with enrollment numbers. The populations with the highest discipline numbers were Black/African American and Latine/Hispanic, consistent with the national data. Nonwhite learners are 50%+ more likely to be disciplined compared to their white peers. What this shows is that there's bias towards nonwhite learners, more specifically Black/African American and Latine/Hispanic learners. We need to take a closer look at why this is happening and work towards a solution.
(Discipline data for Farmington found on https://public.education.mn.gov/MDEAnalytics/DataTopic.jsp?TOPICID=133)
One topic that's becoming more visible is the alarming number of chronically absent learners. If a learner misses 15+ days of school, they are considered chronically absent. Nationwide over 7 million learners are considered chronically absent. Why is this important to know? According to the US Department of Education, chronic absenteeism:
May prevent learners from reaching early learning milestones
It can be a better predictor of whether learners will drop out before graduation (versus using test scores as a predictor)
Can shape adulthood
Data also shows that there is a large disparity between ethnicities. Indigenous (26%), Pacific Islander (22.6%), and Black/African American (20.5%) are the three ethnicities with the highest number of chronically absent learners. White (14.5%) and Asian (8.6%) are the two lowest.
Education is one avenue where the equity gap can be closed, except there are other factors that impact a learner's ability to consistently attend school. Poverty, community resources, access to medical services, violence, and other life stressors can cause a barrier to regular school attendance. It can also be impacted by school discipline (out of school suspensions). Data also shows a disparity in all of these areas. If we want all of our learners to succeed academically, then we need to address the systemic barriers and racial bias.
(Information on chronic absenteeism found on https://www2.ed.gov/datastory/chronicabsenteeism.html#four and https://education.mn.gov/mdeprod/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&dDocName=PROD059427&RevisionSelectionMethod=latestReleased&Rendition=primary)
ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT GAPS
It's well known that there continues to be an achievement gap between ethnicities/race. Data shows that white learners have the highest percentage (65%) of academic proficiency. Indigenous/Alaska Native, Black/African American, and Latine/Hispanic learners have the lowest percentage of academic proficiency at 25-35%.
SMALL CLASS SIZES
Smaller class sizes (15-17 learners) have always been a topic of discussion. It seems like the majority of parents and teachers support smaller class sizes and there's good reason for this. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to be more attentive and celebrate each learner's individual strengths. Smaller class sizes are especially invaluable during elementary years because of the direct effect on testing, participation, and behavior. Smaller classes during the early grades have shown long-term benefits as learners move into middle and high school.
Did you know that smaller class sizes are also EQUITABLE? There is a direct correlation between the practice of redlining and quality of education. Schools within redlined districts were at a disadvantage due to the disparity in funding and resources. Segregated communities saw a disparity in all areas of living; access and quality of healthcare, lack of transportation, poor infrastructure, higher density of residents, housing quality, and job opportunities. While redlining is no longer practiced, the effects are still evident. Redlining was the product of racist, oppressive, and discriminatory practices. Unfortunately, racism, oppression, and discrimination did not disappear when redlining did. Because of this, the Black and Latine population are impacted the most. These disparities aren’t contained to any one area, its widespread and pervasive. This is why it's important that equity is addressed in every system, especially the educational system. Smaller class sizes will help with increasing equity and closing gaps.
ALL learners deserve a quality and equitable education and teachers deserve the opportunity to provide them with that.
(Information found on https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/using-class-size-to-reduce-the-equity-gap, https://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=15680&terms=Small+Classes%2C+Big+Possibilities%2C, and https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED523995.pdf)
We need to actively address all of these issues as it's detrimental to our learners.
We are the only ones who can make the necessary changes.