Intersectional Thinking as a Tool for Educational Equity

(L-R) Roderick L. Carey, Laura S. Yee, David DeMatthews

Today’s bloggers are Roderick L. Carey, University of Delaware; Laura S. Yee, Georgetown Day School; and David DeMatthews, University of Texas at El Paso, whose essay on intersectionality appears in The Educational Forum.

Anthony is an 11-year-old Black boy in Ms. Johnson’s fifth-grade classroom. Although he’s a contributing classroom citizen, well liked by his peers and eager to excel, Ms. Johnson struggles to sustain his interest in reading. She restructures reading groups, attempts to draw connections between popular television shows and the content of books, and even purchases titles portraying racially diverse children and topics that other Black boys in his class seem to find interesting: cars, machinery, sports. Shunning even books that portray Black boys, Anthony retreats further. “I still don’t see myself in these books!” he exclaims.

Mr. Richardson, the principal at a racially and ethnically diverse U.S. high school, noted that toward the end of the year, more boys than girls enrolled in advanced math and science courses for the following year. To remedy this disparity, he used a grant to create a summer enrichment STEM program geared toward girls. However, very few Latina girls enrolled. Yesenia, an enthusiastic Latina sophomore, declined to enroll in the program because of the overnight travel required. She noted, “I can’t take that time away from my job and family this summer.”

What similarities do Anthony and Yesenia’s school and social experiences reflect? What similar yet unsuccessful thinking did Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson use to engage their students?

Perhaps intersectionality, a concept more regularly taken up in women’s studies, political science, and sociology, can provide some insights into these school-based challenges. Intersectionality describes the co-relational forces of how oppressions such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and classism interlock and intersect simultaneously within the lives of individuals. Intersectionality has been adapted as a way to understand that forces like race, class, and gender (as well as ethnicity, sexuality, age, and nation of origin) may not stand alone in their impact on individuals’ lives.

Schools are not free from such dynamics; they mirror and perpetuate them. So, intersectionality pushes educators to view the complexity inherent in students’ lives, drawing attention to the sometimes hidden yet critical domains of oppression that overlap in the experiences of students who most often struggle to secure success in schools.

Why didn’t the interventions put in place by Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson work for Anthony and Yesenia? Both students are marginalized for multiple facets of their identities.

A closer look reveals that Anthony faced marginalization not only for his race, but also in the way his race intersected with gendered expectations for Black boys. Anthony, a young Black boy from low-income circumstances, was also questioning his gender expression, and so the reading interventions missed the mark by not considering this crucial nuance. Mr. Richardson’s STEM program for girls considered gender but did not take into account intersections of gender with ethnicity, class, and cultural norms. Removing Yesenia from her home, even for supplemental educational, could prove difficult for her recently arrived immigrant family without significant supports in place.

In our article “Power, Penalty, and Critical Praxis: Employing Intersectionality in Educator Practices to Achieve School Equity,” we argue that intersectionality provides educators deeper insights into the lives of their students. Educators or youth service providers implementing interventions to create equity and address disparities caused by societal oppression must utilize intersectional thinking to more precisely meet the needs of their increasingly diverse student populations. Employing intersectional approaches to PreK–12 policy and practice supports the possibility for better shaping and enacting critically refined curriculum and programs. Intersectionality can prove to be a highly effective tool in deconstructing taken-for-granted notions of our students and how best to serve them.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Carey, Yee, and DeMatthews’ essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through February 28, 2018.

A Framework for School Safety and Risk Management

This year’s holiday season marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Since 2013, there have been at least 272 school shootings in the United States—about one per week, according to Everytown USA, a nonprofit organization that researches and reports on public gun violence. In 2017 alone, there were 64 shootings at schools and universities, with 31 of those resulting in injury or death.

As Everytown USA asks, how many more students will have to die before legislators pass common-sense laws to prevent gun violence and save lives?

Until that question is settled, teachers and administrators are on the front lines of protecting their schools from targeted shootings. In a new article published this month in The Educational Forum, school violence expert Ann Marie C. Lenhardt, professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College, reports on “A Framework for School Safety and Risk Management: Results from a Study of 18 Targeted School Shooters.”  With coauthors Lemuel W. Graham and Melissa L. Farrell, Lenhardt expands on the long-term study they first reported in the Forum in 2010.

According to the authors, although awareness of targeted school violence has increased in the last decade, school-based mental health services and resources with a framework for threat assessment and prevention are still largely absent. The authors’ current paper builds on their previous study of 15 cases of targeted school shooters between 1996 and 2005, which focused exclusively on school culture, peer/social dynamics, and disclosure of intentions. The new paper focuses on 18 premeditated cases (16 incidents) of targeted secondary school shooters between 1996 and 2012, using publicly available resources to look at the contextual root variables.

In their new paper, Lenhardt and her coauthors examined 22 indicators in three areas—individual factors and behaviors, family dynamics, and triggering events—and found that the higher the number of risk factors present, the greater the potential for violent acts.

According to the authors’ data, environmental factors within the family may play a key role in how an adolescent responds to stress. Results showed that 94% percent of the shooters had demonstrated a lack of resiliency or an inability to rebound from an unsatisfactory experience, hindrance, or insult. This lack of inner resolve or self-confidence, coupled with poor coping skills in 83% of the shooters, was the deadliest combination of indicators measured. In addition, 67% of the shooters felt alienated, had been bullied, or had issued a violent threat. Five indicators were present in 61% of cases: signs of depression, lack of empathy, poor anger management, intent to carry out threats, and a history of previous threats or attempted suicide. Most of the shooters (83%) had access to weapons in their homes.

The authors recommend that teachers and principals use the study’s indicators to identify students at risk of violent behavior, and then take these steps to preclude school shootings: enhance mental health services in schools, include threat-assessment services, and promote family engagement in services. Everytown USA points out that in addition to the heartbreaking losses from targeted homicides, affected schools experience a drop in student enrollment and a nearly 5% decline in surviving students’ standardized test scores.

Lenhardt and her coauthors note that all students who receive counseling support services can become more resilient and, as a result, will be more likely to achieve academic and life goals.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Lenhardt, Graham, and Farrell’s research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through January 31, 2018.

Bridging Social Capital in a Full-Service Community School

Today’s blogger is Xiaoxia A. Newton, an associate professor in the College of Education at UMass Lowell. She reflects here on a research article she and her colleagues recently published in The Educational Forum.

Sofia Vargas (a pseudonym) is a 17-year-old sophomore attending the Advancement Academy, an alternative urban high school in the Northeastern United States. Like her peers at the school, multiple factors place Sofia at risk: poverty, a history of high-level behavioral referrals each year, multiple course failures due to her inability to meet course expectations or refusal to complete course work, and an ongoing mental health condition. Two years ago, the Advancement Academy began the process of transforming itself into a full-service community school (FSCS) with the support of multiple community partners and funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

The FSCS initiative is transforming Sofia’s life by providing opportunities for bridging social capital, a scholarly concept that describes the connections or relationships between individuals in various social groups or networks. Prior to receiving any FSCS services, Sofia had an average 20 to 30 behavioral referrals each month. Since her involvement in the FSCS services, Sofia’s behavioral referrals have been drastically reduced, and she has not had any referrals in many months.

Most important, Sofia’s outlook on school has become more positive and self-regulated, as she is often asking teachers for her progress reports and course credits.

Sofia’s teachers commented on how she is like a new student, and they unanimously nominated her for a teacher-student award. Despite still going through periods of behavioral and emotional distress (often related to out-of-school events), Sofia now has a support network of school staff and community partners working together to address her holistic needs.

My colleagues and I showcased Sofia’s story and the Advancement Academy’s FSCS initiative in a peer-reviewed paper in The Educational Forum (Newton et al., 2017). The empowerment evaluation approach we chose allowed us to move beyond focusing solely on numeric indices but instead on engaging key program stakeholders in building our understanding of the problems they try to tackle and prioritizing our evaluative inquiry.

We chose the Empowerment Evaluation (EE) framework to guide our evaluation work because of the fit between the program design and the key features that characterize EE. The program attempts to address a complex social problem and therefore adopts a whole-child approach that engages multiple community members and is at the very beginning stage. On the other hand, EE focuses on improvement and empowerment, emphasizes collaboration between evaluators and stakeholders, and employs both quantitative and qualitative methods. Given the program design, its context, and its stage, EE offers an ideal framework guiding our evaluation effort.

Several lessons emerged from our work that invite more questions than answers. For instance, are numeric indices adequately capturing the richness of individual stories (like Sofia’s) as the school is transforming some if not all of its students’ lives? How do we think of scale in this context? As university researchers, the empowerment evaluation approach has forced us to move out of our own methodological comfort zone and wrestle with conceptual, methodological, and logistical challenges when doing this line of evaluation work.

Meanwhile, Sofia’s story is an example of the opportunities for bridging social capital that full-service community schools can offer students placed at risk.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Xiaoxia and colleagues’ research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through November 30, 2017.

Research from The Educational Forum: E Pluribus Unum: Mohawk Indian Students’ Views Regarding the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

Today’s blogger is Dr. Leisa Martin, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at The University of Texas at Arlington. She writes here about research recently published in an article (co-authored with Dr. Glenn Lauzon, Dr. Matthew Benus, and Mr. Pete Livas Jr.) in The Educational Forum.

The main purpose of schools is to prepare youth for citizenship in our democratic society, and schools offer an opportunity to reach youth across the nation over an extended period of time.

To promote loyalty and love for the United States, Francis Bellamy, the author of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, and James Upham, the creator of the Pledge salute, partnered with the U.S. government and school superintendents across the country to host the first nationwide Pledge of Allegiance recitation in October 1892. Over the years, the Pledge has become a school tradition. But are today’s diverse youth still choosing to embrace this time-honored practice?

Our study took place in the northeastern United States with 191 high school students, of whom 88 were Akwesasne Mohawks, 80 were European Americans, and 23 who classified themselves as Other. Via two open-ended survey questions, we asked the following: 1) While the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited, do you say it? Why or why not? 2) What do you think about while the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited? Following the surveys, to obtain clarification, we led 25 follow-up interviews. We analyzed the data using the constant comparative method to obtain response categories, and then, we used chi-square tests to learn if statistically significant differences existed between the ethnic groups.

Overall, 68.6% of the participants reported that they do not recite the Pledge, and the chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawks and the students who classified themselves as Other were less inclined to recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance than their European American classmates. With respect to the participants’ rationales, chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to give no reason or a limited reason for not participating in the Pledge compared to the European Americans and the students who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “No, because I don’t want to.” Also, chi-square analysis indicated that the Mohawks and the European Americans were more apt to cite their status as a Mohawk, a Native American, or tradition as their reasons for reciting or not reciting the Pledge than students who classified themselves as Other. A Mohawk student stated, “My Dad always taught me that when you’re Native, don’t stay [show allegiance] to one country. Stay to your people. I feel like [the Pledge] contradicts what he always told me.” In addition, the chi-square showed that European Americans and students who classified themselves as Other cited peer conformity more often than the Mohawk students. For instance, a European American wrote, “Sometimes. I would feel out of place if I did because no one else (except teachers) recites it.”

With respect to their thoughts during the Pledge, the chi-square revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to have thoughts of dislike about the Pledge compared to their European American peers and their peers who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “I don’t really care for it. I don’t listen to it. I ignore it.” In addition, the chi-square tests indicated the Mohawk students were less disposed to have patriotic thoughts during the Pledge of Allegiance compared to classmates who were European Americans or who classified themselves as Other.

U.S. schools were developed to socialize students. In my previous research with primarily European American and African American high school students (Martin, 2012), the students generally expressed positive views about the Pledge. Similarly, in a study with students of unspecified race/ethnicity (Parker, 2007), students accepted the Pledge and saw it as a normal part of life with very little need for critical reflection. However, socialization via the schools is not an automatic process; traditions from the past may change in the present. For example, in our study, 68.6% of our participants chose to reject the Pledge and its underlying call for e pluribus unum. Because U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse, future research offers an opportunity to examine attitudes about the Pledge on a national level.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Martin’s article free with the education community through July 31, 2017.  Read the full article here.

Research from The Educational Forum: Orienting Schools Toward Equity

Today’s blogger is Rachel Garver, a doctoral candidate in Teaching and Learning at New York University. She writes here about her research on racial and economic inequality, school segregation, and policy implementation recently published in The Educational Forum.

For the last two decades, the United States has pursued educational equity by holding schools accountable for the comparative outcomes of student subgroups.  

Subgroup accountability, part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its 2001 reauthorization, requires states to identify and intervene in schools where the progress of student subgroups based on race, economic disadvantage, or English proficiency is lagging. Cited schools must show improvement for the subgroups identified by the state or they will face a series of increasingly severe sanctions.

Research on subgroup accountability pressure is mixed. In some cases, the subgroups cited by the state show progress in subsequent years and in other cases there was no effect.

The promise of subgroup accountability pressure to promote equity relies on the process of policy implementation in schools. How school-based actors interpret and enact mandates determines the form in which policy interventions reach students and thereby impacts outcomes.

I utilize an ethnographic case study of Germaine Middle School (pseudonym) to explore the means through which subgroup accountability pressure oriented the school toward equity and, more specifically, toward the student subgroups cited by the state—if at all.

I find that subgroup accountability pressure encouraged Germaine to focus on their achievement gaps in general, but did not lead to targeted interventions for the state-identified student subgroups.

Why did the school’s citation hold little weight in the day-to-day practices at Germaine? A lack of transparency in the state’s calculations, a lack of faith in the state exams and test scores used to identify cited schools, and ethical concerns with using accountability data to inform instructional and curricular reforms delegitimized the state’s determinations in the eyes of Germaine’s staff members. School-based understandings of which student subgroups were most in need drove Germaine’s equity work, instead of subgroup accountability pressure. However, district administrators insisted that Germaine align its compliance practices with the state findings and measures, even if they were symbolic and irrelevant to classroom practice.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal policy has played an important role in equalizing educational opportunity for marginalized student groups across the wide variance in state politics and practices. The promise of subgroup accountability to promote equity in schools is dependent on how it is received and implemented by state, district, and school actors. For subgroup accountability to fulfill its intentions, citations need to be delivered to schools with greater transparency. Moreover, districts, as intermediaries between the state and schools, must support schools in responding to citations in ways that prioritize equity over state compliance pressures.

Research from The Educational Forum: Urban America and the Future of Schools

Today’s blogger is Dr. Kfir Mordechay, social science research consultant with The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He writes here about research recently published in an article (co-authored by Dr. Gary Orfield) in The Educational Forum.

For almost two centuries after the first official census in 1790, the United States was between 80 and 90 percent White.

Now the United States is on a path toward a demographic diversity never experienced by any nation.

In 2013 we hit a tipping point, where for the first time in the nation’s history most of the babies born were members of minority groups. This means that today’s young Latinx, Black, and Asian toddlers will quickly become the country’s majority.

As the demographic landscape of the country continues to shift, it is our great metropolitan areas that are fueling the transition to a majority-minority country.

It is in these densely populated areas that we find the most profound demographic shifts. Already, in 36 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, newborns have surpassed the majority-minority threshold. And in the country’s largest cities and their urbanized areas of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, 2 out of 3 toddlers are nonwhite.

These toddlers, who will soon grow to be school-age children, come from groups that tend to underperform educationally. This raises questions about how the nation’s schools are preparing the next generation to participate productively in an increasingly competitive global economy.

On average nationwide, these students attend schools that are segregated by race and class, with fewer educational resources such as teacher quality and experience, which could negatively impact their educational achievement.

In 1990, 7 out of 10 school-aged children were White—but today, that number is less than 1 in 2. Educators and policy makers must consider all possible strategies to improve the educational outcomes for this new and diverse majority of American students—a majority that is overwhelmingly concentrated in the nation’s metro regions and whose success is inextricably linked to the future economic prosperity of the nation.

Although the shift in the nation’s racial and ethnic makeup poses imperative challenges for the country’s public schools and society at large, this ongoing diversity explosion should be greeted with optimism because of the opportunities it presents for revitalizing our country, energizing our labor force, and providing greater connectivity to the global economy.

But there is a danger in continuing to pursue the dominant reform models of high-stakes testing and charter schools to address the needs of the nation’s rapidly growing minority groups. This means we must find workable solutions that offer these students more access to better schools.

In thinking about these solutions, it is especially important to keep in mind the range of metropolitan community contexts. In our article, Gary Orfield and I argue that achieving such solutions will require thinking creatively about policies that link housing and schools.

We call for expanding federal housing and urban development programs to create more economically integrative housing, creating more magnet school programs with guidelines and strategies for racial diversity, and putting similar requirements on charter schools.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Mordechay and Dr. Orfield’s article free with the education community through May 31, 2017.  Read the full article here.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Early Childhood Education

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

The ESSA Act requires documentation of “the strategies that the school will be implementing to address school needs, including a description of how such strategies will . . . address the needs of all children in the school, but particularly the needs of those at risk of not meeting the challenging State academic standards, through activities which may include . . . strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to local elementary school programs” (pp. 68–69).

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –Benjamin Franklin

The Every Student Succeeds Act reaffirms the country’s commitment to young learners. Although some research indicates that the kindergarten readiness achievement gap is lessening between children from low- and high-income families, the importance of preparing preschoolers for kindergarten remains a top priority for teachers and parents across the nation. ESSA acknowledges the need for high-quality preschool programs, outlines funding allotments and guidelines, and highlights the benefit of a smooth transition for preschoolers into kindergarten. Read more about the Early Learning Initiatives here.

According to ESSA Section 1114, if Title I funds are used to support preschool programs, then the school district plans must include a description of how the funding is used, specifically addressing how the district supports the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Also, the preschool program and/or services must comply with the performance standards laid out in the Head Start Act.

Vertical Alignment and Collaboration

Vertical alignment is an idea that most educators are familiar with: First-grade teachers share expectations with kindergarten teachers, second-grade teachers discuss what students should know by August with first-grade teachers, and so on. ESSA requires communication and collaboration between preschool programs and the school district. The focus on improving kindergarten readiness and supporting the preschool to kindergarten transition is a key point of the legislation. The idea is multi-faceted and holds many potential benefits, including:

  • Identifying and minimizing gaps in student learning by increasing communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers.
  • Increasing parent involvement and advocacy for their child by helping them to understand the transition.
  • Supporting students’ academic, emotional, and social needs as they transition.

Kindergarten Transition

The transition into kindergarten can be a tough one for children, parents, and sometimes teachers. Students enter kindergarten with so many varied experiences—some have been in daycare and preschool their whole life, and some have never been separated from a parent or family member. Many enter with knowledge of the alphabet and numbers, but there are also children who have never had any instruction or exposure to academic subjects. Regardless of background experiences, even simply learning to line up and sit down when asked can be a struggle.

Here are some ways to support the transition for students into kindergarten:

  • Connect preschool families with free book programs (like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program or visit Reading Rockets for more options) to engage kids with books.
  • Set up transition meetings with the preschool and kindergarten teachers, and support staff like counselors and nurses, to answer questions and establish expectations for families.
  • Establish a way for student preschool records to precede the student, giving the kindergarten teacher a running start at knowing academic (and sometimes social) needs before the school year begins.
  • Provide training for preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and support personnel on social and emotional needs specific to this transition.
  • Arrange kindergarten “play dates” over the summer for incoming kindergarteners and families to meet teachers, administration, support staff, and other kindergarteners.
  • Partner with local businesses and foundations to put together summer learning kits with crayons, paper, books, and other school supplies for the incoming kindergarteners to use over the summer.
  • Write and distribute a Tips for Families packet with helpful hints for parents and family members as they support their child through this transition.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  • What do you or your district staff do to support the preschool to kindergarten transition?
  • In your experience, what are other potential benefits of supporting this transition?

Resources

Bassok, D., Finch, J. E., Lee, R., Reardon, S. F., & Waldfogel, J. (2016). Socioeconomic gaps in early childhood experiences: 1998 to 2010. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–22.

Reardon, S. F., & Portilla, X. A. (2016). Recent trends in income, racial, and ethnic school readiness gaps at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–18.

Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M., Qiao, X., & Craig, J. (2017). The Imagination Library Program and kindergarten readiness: Evaluating the impact of monthly book distribution. Journal of Applied Social Science, 11(1), 11–24.

Dr. Caroline Courter, NBCT, is a Curriculum Specialist at Age of Learning, Inc. and an adjunct faculty member in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Policy Committee.