What is Educational Equity Doing?

scales balancing educationEducational Equity AKA Equity in Education:

Defined as fairness, opportunity, and measure of achievement in education according to the indomitable wikipedia. The idea of educational equity is much more nebulous than the wiki definition. According to some scholars equity in education is most significantly influenced by race and class. Others cite gender and socio-economics. Language diversity. Religion. Sexuality. Rural vs metropolitan areas. Regardless of which area viewed as the “most” influential, I think educators can agree that all children deserve the advantages they need to graduate from high school and either succeed in college or find competitive employment opportunities. So what are the resources needed to give all children the opportunities they need to meet this goal?

  • Qualified Teachers, Principals and Other Personnel
  • Suitable, Up-to-Date Curricula
  • Additional Resources for “At-Risk” Youth
  • Resources for Youth with Additional Needs (Disabilities, English Language)
  • Class Size/Group Size
  • Safe Environment
  • Facilities that are Accessible and Adequate
  • Books, Media Center, Technologies and Other Supplies (Desks etc)

How many? What type? The Equity Campaign found deficiencies in 28 out of 33 schools in their study. Those were based on state (NY) minimum requirements. That the state minimum requirements have become the maximum that students can expect in some schools is pretty terrible. And that assumes state minimums actually achieve educational equity. Not only are the minimum violated, but these basic requirements do not sufficiently meet the needs to provide students the opportunity to meet standards for a high school graduation that leads to college or career readiness.

Oregon, my home state, also struggles with how to build an equitable educational system. Senate Bill 253 requires that all adults in Oregon will have a high school diploma or equivalent by 2025. Sounds great. Wait? 2025? The Bill also says that 40% of adults will have an associate’s degree or another postsecondary certificate and another 40% will have a bachelor’s or other advanced degree. Just in case you are worried that the 20% without a college degree will be those who are already treated inequitably – the Bill stipulates a 40-40-20 representation of every student in Oregon. People of color should, if the Bill achieves the goals set out in it, attain 40% bachelor or higher degrees, 40% associates, and 20% high school diploma or the equivalent. Great goal but are they going to achieve all this?

There is still a disportionality in terms of people of color receiving fewer opportunities. Social opportunity plays a big part in educational opportunity. The Oregon Investment Board discusses implementing more culturally responsive teaching practices but how will they provide the educator development to meet these goals. A young person in second-grade today is supposed to graduate high school under this 40-40-20 ratio. Have their teachers received the training they need to make this happen? Have class sizes shrunken appropriately? Is the curricula up to date?

Cornell West said, “A fully functional multiracial society cannot be achieved without a sense of history and open, honest dialogue.” I would love to join the educational equity dialogue world-wide and seek to make the substantive changes within explicit, implicit, and hidden curriculums. Why does the bell ring have more significance than immersion in a learning opportunity? What are the root causes of disparity attributed to race, class, language, and other societal and institutional barriers? How can we make school culture visible so that all stakeholders can look to implement a culturally responsive culture. What needs to happen to help educators adapt their discourse and perspective to the ideal of equitable education?

I think about these issues a lot. Usually in the context of LGBTQ educational equity. Typically people can agree on the need for the big picture to change. As we dive into the specifics, educators, policy makers, parents, and others start to argue about what suitable curricula look like. Whether class size really matters. Financial constraints. What composes a qualified school administrator or teacher. I might say an LGBTQ identified educator provides invaluable mentorship to LGBTQ youth. Another educator immediately disagree and suggest such a member of the educational team is not needed. I have witnessed a faculty agree that hiring more diverse candidates is the priority during a hiring cycle only to discard the resumes of people of color. The discourse, therefore, needs to be reflective and continual.

Whether conflicts center around behavior, work habits, pedagogical ideas, policies, or practices, to attain educational equity for a school requires school leaders and educators to build trust and healthy collaboration. Relationships are critical to the work of schools. Student-teacher, teacher-teacher, teacher-administrator, all the relationships are important for building and maintaining a school climate conducive to equity in education according to the National School Climate Council. In this, questioning the systemic causes of disparities amongst students, schools have the opportunity to attain greater equity.


Short Notes of a Book: How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools

Today I spent quite a while catching up on research articles themed around LGBTQ discrimination in education. Since I am taking notes I thought I might as well share some summaries here. Besides, LinkedIn and my Blog make for easy searching compared to the vast vault of my hard drive and Google Apps accounts.

Each of the articles includes a citation at the beginning and my thoughts following in italics.

Cover of the book: How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools: Use Social Architecture to Prevent, Lessen and End Bullying.Goodstein, Phyllis Kaufman. (2013) How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools: Use Social Architecture to Prevent, Lessen and End Bullying. New York: Routledge.

In general I dislike the use of bullying as a term to describe the marginalization of a student or group of students. First I will need to ignore this categorization as most articles will use terms, like bullying, that invite excuse making (my major problem with using terms like bullying and victimization. The categorizations of the forms the bullying (read: marginalization) and outcomes in the first half of the article are actually something I would love to build an infographic on. The language would be useful and easily translatable to a variety of audiences and facilitate greater dialogue. It was the second half of the article which I really found interesting.

Goodstein describes the use of social architecture theory and social scaffolding as a method for creating social change. Actually it is more of guide for educators and others. Teachers stand as role models and set up systems for pro-social classroom behaviors. There is also a description for bystanders and upstanders. The section on encouraging bystanders to become upstanders deserves more consideration as those models may apply to the design of a game intending the same outcome. To support teachers and upstanders there are two major components described by Goodstein: incompatibility and intervention. Incompatibility means creating such an environment of kindness, expectations, service learning, projects, and other things so as to make the school climate incompatible with bullying. Intervention focusses on making sure educators and upstanders, parents, and the community, administrators, and policy all take action when marginalization occurs as inaction relates to a lack of condemnation rather that “ignoring something so it goes away.”

I really enjoyed the metaphor of a broken window. If a window is allowed to sit without repair then additional windows will be broken. The same applies to marginalizing behavior. If no one intervenes and there is not a social stigma applied to marginalizing behaviors then what can be expected to occur? Maybe the broken window would be a symbol for a video game…or graffiti on a locker.


Discrimination in Oregon: LGBTQ Education: Random Musing

State Flag of OregonOregon confuses me. LGBTQIAAP (I think there are more letters and the P may stand for poly or pan – maybe there are two “P’s”) people in this state lead an interesting life.

Within Portland sexual and gender minorities enjoy relative high acceptance compared to the rest of the state. There are examples of discrimination and I think trans folks, while they have gained some traction, still have a long way to go. Still, for the most part there is an acceptance here that allows me to wear a rainbow wristband without fear. My own discomfort examining my gender identity is, I think, the reason I feel the trans community has not quite achieved the same level of safety. Totally subjective.

With some trepidation I admit to confusion around trans issues particularly. I tend towards more gender-fluid or non-gendered perceptions of myself but realize that most folks will outwardly identify me as male. Before living with a roommate who was gender non-conforming and my current roommate who had a trans girlfriend, I just thought I was more feminine than other men. Now I have reinterpreted this gender-confusion that I had conflated with my sexuality as something like non-gendered self perception. People still outwardly identify me as male and I accept male pronouns but I find non-gendered language to be more comfortable. Once I finish this doctorate I can truly have non-gendered titles. (Not a good reason to pursue a doctoral degree but a nice side benefit).

Portland is a fairly welcoming community at least outwardly. The number of Human Rights Campaign stickers I see while biking to work everyday certainly exceeds the queer population. Community organizations abound. Many shops proclaim their support for sexual, if not gender, minorities. Many of the largest companies in the area have explicit language around discrimination. Even a couple of the private, religious universities have language around non-discrimination. At least three religious buildings have the rainbow flag on their signage. All in all there is at least a veneer and a bit of depth to inclusivity in the area.

This changes as you move further from the small city of Portland. There are pockets of inclusivity around the state and I hope these are growing. There are also swaths of Oregon where I wish I owned cargo pants and a plaid shirt. My family lives in one such town. When asked why I do not visit I usually hold my silence but if my parents ever read this blog: last time I visited home a store clerk in our home town glared at me and said, “We don’t serve your type.” I am pretty sure I was wearing khaki pants, loafers, and a button up shirt as my disguise but this clerk’s gaydar was better than mine. The fact that I feel I need to try passing when outside Portland or one of the other small nests of inclusivity seems evidence enough for me.

Wait a second….! Isn’t this all fairly subjective? In keeping with my current need to provide better evidence for this suspicion I have been keeping track of news articles that show discrimination of various types over the last several months. I have to say these scare me:

  • Oregon mother ‘fatally beat her four-year-old son until his intestines tore because she thought he was gay’ – Link
  • Oregon Lesbian Couple Claims Cab Driver Kicked Them Out Because They Are Gay – Link
  • Four teens facing charges after allegedly torturing boy – Link
  • Oregon: Christian Businesses Must Follow Demands of Gay Customers – Link
  • Religious Oregon teens wear ‘Gay Is Not OK’ shirts to school to protest lack of ‘straight day’ – Link
  • Candidate admits to posting anti-gay slurs – Link

These articles do not all explicitly deal with discrimination against sexual and gender minorities. Instead they represent ideas and attitudes that marginalize folks of non-sexual and gender dominant groups.

A careful reader will note that many of these occur in the Portland region. Why am I more uncomfortable in the rural areas of Portland? Because events that precipitate news articles like those above rarely makes it to the paper. Friends that live in rural areas have reported that they would never feel safe enough to complain about a business refusing them service due to their sexual or gender orientation. I have also heard from past students that homophobic language in clothing and speech is often overlooked in schools around the state. This seems to be an atrocity yet I grew up in one of those towns and change comes slowly to these places. In some ways this makes small towns charming and quaint. In others was this makes little hamlets feel hostile to outsiders and those who are unable to conform to the local norms.

So – Oregon confuses me.

Classroom Management Series: Use Humor to Diffuse a Conflict

Kids building a fantastic contraption.

Working with students we occasionally encounter defensiveness for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not realize that their behavior was disruptive and now they are denying their involvement. Maybe they think the failed a quiz. If a teacher was unwise enough (or tired – honestly this is the only time it happens to me) to become involved in a power struggle with a student this sort of deconstructive behavior can set in.

What do we do?

First off we avoid the aforementioned power struggle. The discussions of who is right and in control does nothing to help and focus students on their learning. Sometimes we can talk to students privately but with larger and larger class sizes and more requirements for out time this can sometimes be prohibitive. Often we send the student to the hall to gain some privacy but that action has its own onus. I always try to be ready to apologize – sometimes I inadvertently wrong or offend a student. Often times other students provoke the incident and I can impose consequences for uncivilized behavior on them which results in lowered defensiveness in the student I am working with. All these work well including planned ignoring but my favorite – the silver bullet to tense stressfull situations in my class room – is humor.


Intervening Through Humor

Using humor gives the teacher a powerful and positive tool to change disruptive behaviors. Getting a student (or class) to laugh during a tense situation breaks the cycle of the behavior and helps reset the stage of the classroom as a safe, fun place to learn. My one caveat for using humor as an intervention is that it should NEVER be directed at a student. Never use humor at the expense of a student. This not only fails to build a positive climate and destroys any chance of an effective intervention – using humor at a students expense  means the teacher bullied that student. The biggest bully in a classroom could easily become the teacher.

How does humor work? I interviewed a colleague, Mrs Sarha, who use humor to diffuse almost all ill-behavior in her classroom. Each use built upon other structures for managing her classroom.

She, like many teachers, uses a sound prompt to get her students attention. In her case she own a beautifully cartoonish bell in the shape of a turtle. She calls her bell Myrtle the Turtle. Early in the year she starts her high school students off by explaining to them that they must “Respect the Turtle!” What results from this is a bit of hilarity and anytime someone goes off task during a discussion another classmate with yell out, “Hey! Respect the turtle.” By turning her attention prompt into something entertaining and easily remembered she removed the focus from herself as the person desiring respect and, through Myrtle, turned the focus back onto the learning regardless of the source for an activity or information.

She also deals with disruptive student behavior in an entertaining fashion. Every teacher has a pet peeve. Sometimes it is the tapping of a pencil during discussion (something that immediately tells me I have a kinesthetic or  possibly auditory learner in the room) or something else that disrupts the teacher. Mrs Sarha had a screamer this year. Yes – a student who felt compelled to scream. To distract from the tension that built due to these behaviors she announced one day that, “Each scream means a multiple choice questions becomes an essay question.” By this time she had already established a caring environment and impressed upon her students that it was important that they all help each other overcome difficulties in class. They also knew her well enough to realize that she was unlikely to carry out this threat. What it did was show that the behavior was not acceptable and induced the entire classroom – including the screamer – to laugh. Occasionally the screamer will still blurt out but now the class groans and someone says, “Not another essay question.”

She also has a stock of directional phrases she uses that keep directions light-hearted but serious:

“Be nice or leave.”

“Respect the turtle.”

“Make a mess – clean it up.” – she uses this when feelings are hurt as well. Making a mess of someone’s feelings requires clean up as well.

Some of what she does may seem like sarcasm and she admits that she had a difficult time with that at first. Sarcasm does not help; especially if students do not understand the intent. I find that students respond best when I use humor where I make fun of my own actions or perform a bit of physical humor.

How do you intervene through humor? Feel free to comment.

Online Education – Still Figuring Out Where I Think it Fits

Top of an infographic on online learning

Click the above image for a link to a detailed infographic sharing information about the growing demand for online learning solutions.

The article located here, by David Brooks, explains a couple perspectives with online learning. I think it does an okay job of taking a balanced look at online education. Currently my opinion on online learning and blended learning fits within the frame of the article; online education provides a mode of learning roughly equivalent to a regular classroom for motivated students.

They key part of that last idea, “motivated” students, requires a bit more explanation though. Many students choose online learning for great reasons, especially at my high school. They have experienced life style changes that no longer allow them to leave home as easily, they experience social phobias, local school bullies have made life too miserably, and other situations that make online learning a more convenient option. Other students choose the online school as an “easy” route to credits and a high school diploma. For the most part these students are not motivated in their regular schools and this has led them to needing an alternative. Personally and professionally I believe that alternative should not be online schooling.

If a students lacks motivation in a brick and mortar school moving to an online school will only exacerbate their problems. At a regular school students make one choice about attending or not attending school for the day and once they are there they are more or less captive. I understand many students skip class and walk off campus but this requires effort and sometimes quite a bit of planning. In an online school the students make that choice about attending every moment of the day. “Would I rather read up on Facebook posts or complete an assignment?” “Play that video game or add a response to that discussion.”

Even in online schools where the students participate in synchronous learning sessions they have the opportunity to make choices that lead their attention much further from their classwork than they can in a regular classroom. In a regular classroom a teacher can see students and visually assess their attentiveness. In an online session I have had students get up, go to their refrigerator for orange juice, turn on some music, welcome someone into their home, and play a hand of virtual poker. Were they paying attention when I explained that we use Astronomical Units as a way to measure distances within our solar system? Unlikely. In fact the student I am thinking of did poorly on that section of the exam. The only reason I even know this happened was because they accidentally left their mic on. Most of the time the instructor has little notion of student engagement except through polling tools, chat, and quick response buttons.

All of this makes me think that online education serves a useful purpose and, in a blended learning situation, provides greater tools and access to the best resoures. Ill-motivated students, on the other hand, will find themselves ill-prepared and likely fail in a virtual school environment. For online learning – motivation is key! Despite this one area of misgiving I think that online learning will continue to grow and that teachers and school districts should work to take advantage of online learning as a powerful way to connect students to greater learning.