Three years ago during summer prep I found myself in need of an evidence-based strategy to fulfill the learning needs of my students. Previously I had used peer-assisted learning such as Collaborative Strategic Reading or CSR, which although effective didn’t necessarily elevate my students into the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I wanted my diverse group of students to leave my history class with the ability to think for themselves. Learning new vocabulary and applying inference would still be important but adding value to the multitude of voices became my priority.

So why is providing value to a marginalized student’s voice essential for a teacher? The answer can be found in a traditional classroom based on dated pedagogy. The classroom where the teacher’s voice is the most important followed by the “smartest” kids in the class. In such a classroom everyone else watches the show afraid or hesitant to speak. Typically the watchers tend to be the underprivileged or marginalized of our society.

When done correctly Jigsaw gives every student an opportunity to have their voice heard. The teacher operates as a facilitator but there is no doubt that Jigsaw is student-centered. Using this strategy alone tells the student, “Your voice matters.” Starting in smaller expert groups students often are more inclined to speak while also hearing other perspectives. The social aspect of Jigsaw is beneficial as well but I have personally seen engagement levels increase across the board. As teachers we can provide the framework, opportunity, and expectations of our students. That old defeatist saying,”They don’t want to learn” is partially correct. Students don’t want to learn in a classroom where their voice isn’t valued. Would you?

Andre Williams teaches history and law at Manzano High School in Albuquerque, N.M.

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In today’s schools a visitor can walk through the halls and often guess which level of classes are being taught based on the racial composition of the classroom. The achievement gap between races has been exacerbated by AP and gifted programs that track students. This tracking often dictates a student’s career path and future earning potential. AP and gifted classes, therefore, not only segregate students but perpetuate the never ending caste system known as America’s socio-economic ladder.

Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate schools were inherently unequal and the landmark ruling led to the slow physical integration of America’s schools. However, segregation still exist within schools with the expectation and passive acceptance that students of color will trend toward general education classes. These “general eds” are often taught by new or inexperienced teachers with an expectation that achievement levels will be lower than their peers next door in AP. Like Brown v. Board of Education this dichotomy of AP and general education classes is inherently unequal.

There are evidence-based strategies for improving achievement levels of marginalized students. As long as a separate school system exist within a school it gives schools an out when addressing accountability for achievement gaps. A school may appear to be delivering a Free and Appropriate Public Education but in reality tracking serves as an inadequate solution derived from the inappropriate funding of the two-school system. Furthermore, the tax paying parents of students of color may not be aware that they’re essential paying for inequity. To address this inequality in America’s schools Equity4Education proposes the following:

  • Defund all AP and Gifted classes
  • Fund evidence-based strategies that narrow the achievement gap and give students of color a voice
  • Increase funding for early education

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We believe children of color should have access to textbooks and supplemental material which strongly emphasizes the contribution of all ethnicities and cultures. School districts need to prioritize the diversity of stakeholders and curriculum administrators. At the very least teachers need flexibility in content choices and districts should push publishers to provide a variety of content options.No longer is it acceptable in the digital age to have one static and often ethnocentric textbook in content areas.

Recent events in America have shown that revisionist are active in the political and social fabric of our society. If our children are to be students of the truth their instruction needs to be robust in establishing a foundation for critical thinking. Omissions and revisions can be countered by including not only diverse perspectives but emphasizing the facts and voices rarely heard in the historical and scientific record.

A cursory view of major education publishers reveals that textbooks are published with mass circulation as the top priority. Therefore, publishers such as McGraw-Hill tend to omit facts or deemphasize events in an attempt to accommodate as many districts as possible. Districts that include stakeholders with vastly different sentiments when it comes to students of color. At Equity4Education we propose the following:

  • Investment in non-profit educational publishers from public and private entities
  • Petition of major inner-city school districts and boards to diversify their content and curriculum decision makers
  • Divestment from traditional hard copy textbooks and investment in digital infrastructure with access for all students.

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According to research students learn best from educators who share a common culture or background with them. This fact does not imply that students of color can only learn if their teacher reflects their own ethnicity. It does, however, emphasize the need for cultural awareness in the classroom and diversity of our teacher workforce. Too often students are taught by educators with cultural views that contrast with positive educational outcomes for students of color. If educators do not believe in diversity and equity then how can we expect them to go above and beyond in the education of our children?

For minority students teachers of color often serve as a default mentor or life coach. These relationships are invaluable to the intellectual and emotional growth of our youth. Dropout rates and disengagement for students of color are regularly preceded by years of falsely believing that no one cares. Diversifying and educating the current workforce can reverse this trend with benefits for all stakeholders.

Although a belief in diversity and inclusion should not serve as a litmus test for new hires, there are ways we can ensure districts are responsive to the needs of all their students. At Equity4Education we propose the following:

  • Petition major inner-city school districts to expand their searches outside of their home state if a teacher candidate of color is not available.
  • Request that school districts offer professional development for cultural awareness and incentives for teachers who take courses designed to help students of color.
  • Demand that districts commit to a diverse workforce and offer transparency in hiring practices.