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.

The Researcher’s Responsibility in Communities of Color

Today’s bloggers are professors Gholnecsar E. Muhammad, Georgia State University, and Bettina L. Love, University of Georgia. They describe here the background for their interest in Critical Community Conversations, which they recently wrote about in The Educational Forum.

Throughout history, researchers have come into communities of color to engage families and conduct research in unethical and inhumane ways. In these events, researchers have used our communities for profit or self-gain without working to advance these same communities or without deeply learning from or listening to community members.

Perhaps the most well-known case is the Tuskegee trials, conducted between 1932 and 1972, when U.S. Public Health Service researchers persuaded roughly 600 Black male sharecroppers into a clinical study by telling them that they would be given free medical care, meals, and burial insurance. Two-thirds of the men participating in the study had syphilis, yet were never informed of their disease or given a treatment for their illness, although a cure existed when penicillin was developed in the 1940s. They were lied to and told they were being treated for “bad blood” when, in fact, they were not.

Instead, the treatment was withheld; many of the men, and some of their wives and children, died as a result. It wasn’t until 1997 that President Bill Clinton offered a public apology, calling the experiment shameful and racist.

An earlier example, in 19th-century South Africa, was an enslaved Khoisan woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was taken to Europe so that pseudoscientists could “study” her body and “investigate” her sexuality due to her body shape. They wrongfully concluded that Black women have a greater sexual appetite.

During their research, Baartman was raped, tricked, and forcibly put on display (sometimes in a cage) in a museum for lookers to observe and mock. When she died in 1815, her body was dismembered and displayed in a French museum until 1974. Her remains were not properly buried in her homeland until 2002.

Neglect of and disregard for Black bodies in so-called research does not begin or end with these two cases. Although ethical and more humane research standards have since been put in place, we still question the authenticity and carefulness of researchers as they study communities of color, including their intent, their honesty, and the ways they represent and write about Black and Brown youths and families.

As we continue to engage with communities, conduct research with communities of color, and prepare the next generation of researchers, we are mindful that elements of the unethical research of the past can be and have been repeated today. This charges us to ask:

  • Do educational researchers love the people in communities of color and the participants in their studies?
  • Are researchers going into communities for self-gain or merely to publish in journals from the problems that Black and Brown youths experience?
  • Are researchers receiving substantial funding for their studies while the communities they study get no benefits from those dollars? Are researchers of color employed on these funded projects?
  • Are researchers deeply listening to and being positively changed by people of color?
  • Are researchers treating people of color as positively as they write about them in research articles?
  • Are researchers displaying honesty and integrity in their methods of collecting information? Or again, are researchers merely taking the information they desire and leaving people unhealed? In other words, are we seeing modern-day Tuskegee trials in educational research today?

We have found from our personal experiences that we need to ask these questions and understand who is being given consent to study our people and our communities. We need university researchers to have a keen awareness of the responsibilities and the impact they can have in authentically partnering with community members. We purposely use the word “authentic.”

So often we have found that researchers come in and take from communities of color because those are the sites of the greatest needs used to problematize their research. We have observed researchers talk about social justice in articles but not display the same awareness in day-to-day life.

The responsibility we have to communities of color is also one takeaway from our Critical Community Conversations in the Atlanta area. In this work, we remind others and ourselves that our intentions and actions must be grounded in lessons from history, intersectionality, and anti-colonialism.

There is a history of hypocrisy when it comes to researching and engaging communities of color, and we know that element of history is still present today. We must go beyond good intentions and continue to question our actions as educators and researchers. We purposefully start our questioning with love because, as we remind ourselves each day, love is the first responsibility we have.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Gholdy and Bettina’s research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2017.

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: Lifting the Smog: Coaching Toward Equity for All

Today’s bloggers are Jacobe Bell and Reshma Ramkellawan, self-employed instructional coaches in New York. They reflect here on what led to their research article recently published in The Educational Forum.

A man stabbed, his fresh blood splattered all over the bodega counter. A crumpled body in the middle of the street, framed by paramedics, police officers, and weeping bystanders. What was supposed to be a rare lunch break with school administrators became a day that shook Jacobe to her core. It’s not every day a teacher wanders onto the scene of a murder. But Jacobe will never forget the incident for another reason: the perceived indifference of the school administrators. She still wonders if their response might have been different if the murder victim had been of a different race or a higher socioeconomic class. Who knows? What we do know is that a person’s lived experiences affect how they interact with and think about others. What causes educators to become desensitized? What causes educators to see some people differently than they see themselves?

We don’t have simple answers to these questions. Our experiences as instructional coaches, however, have allowed us to gain insight into how teachers develop nuanced understandings of the students they serve in the contexts in which they choose to teach. Smog and Discourse (Tatum, 2003; Gee, 2015) are two theoretical concepts that explore how our subconscious is a manifestation of our lived social, economic, racial, and cultural experiences. In the case of Discourse, implicit beliefs around class, economics, and education are articulated in our word choices (e.g, “these kids can’t do this,” or “stuff like this happens everyday—no big deal”).

Teachers engage in these language patterns because they are surrounded by smog that reinforces their beliefs. The administrators’ reaction to the murder scene is an example of this. They likely had been bombarded by media reports and personal experiences that perpetuated the image of the school community as violent, aggressive, and dangerous. This district in particular has several police officers on consistent patrol. As a result of their lived experiences, administrators (and teachers) often subconsciously fail to see the narratives of their school constituents beyond their own psychological constructions of them. No one ever wants to believe they have made their implicit biases explicit, whether they have chosen to work in an urban setting with children of color or in any community where ethnicities and races are different from their own. However, we cannot always control the smog within which our psyche formulates meaning of the world, especially if we do not have a say in our formative experiences. Institutional racism has significant influence on the smog we are surrounded by and its manifestation in Discourse.

As women of color, we are keenly aware of subtle indicators of racism. We want as many allies as possible in the fight for educational equity. In order for urban educators to be true allies, it is imperative that all of us spend time unpacking the reasoning behind the things we say, the topics we choose to teach, and manner in which we enact pedagogy. As instructional coaches, we help teachers unpack belief systems that impact the instructional decisions they make. It can often be uncomfortable having these difficult conversations with teachers. The approach we ultimately utilized, outlined in our article in The Educational Forum, relied on the foundation of trust and good intention that we established with our teachers. In order for us to ask difficult inquiry questions (e.g., “Why do you believe your students are incapable of learning?” or “Did you notice your tendency to make deficit-oriented statements?”), the teachers we coached needed to understand that we were not judging them for the Discourse and smog that shaped who they are. Rather, we wanted to support their transition to empathetic teachers who are responsive to the needs of their students, moving toward equity for all.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Reshma and Jacobe’s article free with the education community. Access this article and the whole issue at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2017.

Research from The Educational Forum: Improving High School–College Alignment

Today’s blogger is Jiffy Lansing, Senior Researcher at Chapin Hall, University of Chicago. She writes here to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Caitlin Ahearn, James E. Rosenbaum, Christine Mokher, and Lou Jacobson) in The Educational Forum.

As policy focus on providing financial supports for low-income students to gain access to college has grown, the college graduation gap has also increased. One of the factors related to low college graduation rates is that many students spend significant time and money on remedial courses. These courses do not bear college credit and are often misunderstood by students as “college” courses. Students end up in remedial courses as a result of their scores on a college placement test, a test that many students were not expecting to take and did not study for. Rather than blaming students for being unprepared or simply providing information to students about the consequences of their placement test scores on their college course offerings, a sociological perspective on this issue highlights potential systemic adaptations that could promote college success. An approach that addresses the current loose coupling and poor alignment between high school and college systems could be an effective way to promote college success for all students. However, such system-level reforms are challenging in the decentralized context of education in the United States.

My colleagues and I explored how teachers strive to implement Florida’s statewide initiative to attempt to align high school and college performance standards. Our study highlights important implementation considerations and the efforts teachers make despite short notice and minimal additional resources. It also underscores the importance of including career education in the alignment of secondary and postsecondary institutions.

The state of Florida recently implemented a statewide initiative that aims to better align high school and college expectations. Florida is one of only seven states with a single common placement test: the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT). Florida’s reform, the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative (FCCRI), was designed to take advantage of the common placement test to improve students’ preparation for college. The reform targeted students who were close to achieving college readiness standards. Starting in 2012, Florida mandated the PERT college test for all high school juniors who scored in the middle range of the high school exit exam (FCAT) as sophomores, and required seniors to take College Readiness and Success (CRS) courses in 12th grade if they tested below college-ready on PERT. These courses were offered in math and English, and intended to help students pass the PERT when they enroll in college. Ultimately, the FCCRI sought to create alignment by testing students early and repairing seniors’ achievement gaps.

Our paper reports findings from a study of teacher responses to Florida’s alignment reform. We examine:

  • Whether CRS teachers felt the reform succeeded at meeting its goals
  • Teachers’ views of the reform’s shortcomings
  • Actions they took to make it work
  • What more was required
  • Their views of what improved and what got worse in the second year.

Analyses are based on a survey of teachers conducted in the spring of 2013 and again in the spring of 2014, the first and second years of the mandatory CRS offerings.

We expected teachers might express skepticism about the program because it offered little advance notice, vague standards, and few resources. Instead, teachers embraced the reform’s goals and worked to implement them despite impediments. Most teachers evaluated the reform as moderately to extremely effective. English teachers reported more difficulty, rated effectiveness lower, and made more efforts to use outside resources than math teachers. Both math and English teachers equally felt that heterogeneous students and lack of PERT information, textbook resources, and diagnostic tools impeded the initiative.

Apart from improved diagnostic tools, the next most common impediments reported were a lack of planning time or curricular supports. In Year 2, teachers reported conflicting perceptions of whether the initiative improved since Year 1. Importantly, besides the discrepancies noted in the first year, teachers reported those discrepancies increased further in the second year, with improvements most often reported in engagement for college-bound students.

At the same time, teachers were least likely (19%) to report improvements for engagement of non-college-bound students. This, along with the increased change for academic heterogeneity problems, indicates that teachers continued to struggle with student differences in their classrooms, especially for non-college-bound students. When the reform is working with college-bound students of similar academic achievement, teachers have fewer difficulties. However, when the reform involves many non-college-bound students or heterogeneous achievement levels, teachers face serious impediments.

This study shows that the sociological approach to alignment can be done, and teachers perceived it to be effective with college-bound students. Even the reform’s failure to provide resources did not discourage teachers’ efforts. Teachers found supportive resources, although they identified additional types of support that would further improve its effectiveness. However, student heterogeneity remained an issue. College-bound students’ engagement increased more than it decreased, while the opposite was true for non-college-bound students. Alignment reform made the preexisting inequality of these two groups even more pronounced.

Despite its name, the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative assumes that all students are motivated by a reform directed at college-bound goals. Teachers report that this is not the case, and their non-college bound students did not engage. The program magnifies the discrepant needs of these two groups of students. Future initiatives might benefit from including career-related features to reach students who, in their junior and senior years of high school, do not see themselves attending college.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Jiffy Lansing and colleagues’ article free with the education community through September 30, 2017. Read the full article here.

Research from The Educational Forum: A Call for Teacher Support of Art

Dr. Jodi Patterson is an art educator who wrote a paper for The Educational Forum titled “Too Important to Quit: A Call for Teacher Support of Art.” The essay is largely based on her experience teaching an undergraduate course called “Art for the Elementary Teacher,” a required methods course for education majors to earn their teacher certification in Washington state. A variety of students—including science, physical education, and math majors, not just art majors—take her course.

When Dr. Patterson first interviewed for her position, the department chair asked Jodi a key question…

The chairwoman asked me, “What is the most important thing you think your general education students should learn from taking an art methods course?”  

I replied, “I believe the most important thing a general education teacher should take away from my art class is an understanding that much of what they think they know about creativity and their personal art-making abilities is wrong.”

I elaborated on my answer, stating that many people believe humans are either born to be artists or not, or seem to think people are either creative or not. I offered a few key facts, something along the lines of how the workforce demands skills that cannot be outsourced, neuroscience backs up claims that the arts help with cognition in general, and drawing is a skill that can be taught. Then I ensured the committee that I would work hard to debunk art and creativity myths by providing them with concrete examples of what I would teach non-art students, including how to carefully observe the world so they can draw it, how to expand their notion of creativity from mere self-expression to include branches of interdisciplinary innovation, and thus, how to recognize the ways art can be harnessed to enhance both teaching and learning.

My answer to the “most important thing” question was a line in the sand. It was a promise that future teachers would have an opportunity to realize art’s power firsthand if they studied education at our university, and reinforced my desire to take the position.

The “most important thing” question was vital for another reason: It provided me with a focus. Sometimes the teaching profession gets hectic, passion gets diffused, and repetition of content can feel burdensome. But a simple mantra can help fortify convictions and serve as a basic reminder of why we teach. In this case, the department chair’s question framed my mantra: Authentic experience can obliterate fallacy. Such fallacy is propagated in and by our current educational system:

  1. Most young children emphatically enjoy engaging with the visual arts.
  2. Most teens quit art.
  3. Some teens who quit art become the teachers of young children who enjoy art (but as teachers are largely afraid to effectively employ art in their classrooms).

Future teachers need to be exposed to authentic art experiences to help obliterate this creative-crisis cycle. With all of the promises the visual arts bring to education, the specialized art teacher cannot do it alone. I fully realize such a statement is disruptive to both my field of art education and the educational system itself, so I took pains to outline my declaration in The Educational Forum. In reality, teachers don’t need published academic papers to clue them in to the benefits of art. We (the teachers) already stock our classrooms with art supplies because we know students enjoy using them. But what if we expanded art’s offering beyond paint and crayons? What if we believed in the power of active versus passive observation? What if we collectively encouraged divergent thinking over exalting the one right answer? Or if we all believed artistic skills could be taught, honed, and assessed just as readings skills can be? What if we understood the reading of both images and text to be equally vital skills for generations of digital natives? Could we obliterate the pubescent creative-crisis by being confident mentors who modeled, taught, and encouraged artistic behavior? How about instead of saying “I can’t,” we all said “I am learning”? How liberating would it be to the delicate psyche of humans to not feel self-defeated when confronted with trial and error opportunities—to have the confidence to practice, err, and re-invent? These are just some of the things the visual arts teach us.

The field of visual art must release itself from its specialized stronghold. Art is not exclusive unto itself, but rather inclusive to nearly all forms of human existence. If we hone generations of humans who are fierce warriors of mark-making, aesthetic up-taking, and divergent think-tanking, then together we can create a world of humans who, as Edmund Feldman coined it, become “human through art.” Art has the power to make this and many more beneficial promises so, but it needs a collective force to make it be.

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