Training Bias Requires Comprehensive Approach

As many who implement trainings in the field would guess, research has found that removing teacher bias is not an easy or quick fix in our schools. A recent summary of the research from EdWeek writes:

“Several large-scale analyses of research on implicit-bias training suggest it more often changes short-term knowledge about the vocabulary of diversity than long-term changes in behavior. Several specific common strategies—such as thinking positive thoughts about stereotyped groups, meditating or making decisions more “slowly” to avoid stereotypes, or simply being aware of the possibility of implicit biases while making decisions—have all so far failed to show benefits that last even a day or two.

In some cases, diversity and anti-bias training can paradoxically lead to more stereotyping, if participants come to think of biases as common and uncontrollable, and can lead white participants to feel threatened without yielding benefits for participants of color. Rather, evidence suggests staff training can be helpful, but only as part of a comprehensive strategy that includes identifying specific problems and strategies to address structures that perpetuate bias in a school system.” (Sarah Sparks, Nov. 17, 2020)

Implementing broad mind shifts requires extensive and ongoing work, not only at the school and classroom level, but throughout the district, to the state, and even to other agencies and organizations that collaborate or connect to schools and the students.

While some districts may be tempted to “check the box” and hold a 1 or 2 hour professional development series on bias or equity, it is not enough to reverse decades of beliefs as well as institutionalized policies and practices. Truly addressing bias in the education system requires a coordinated effort of intensive professional development (especially those which target discrete skills (i.e. classroom management techniques, self-regulation, increasing empathy), creating a safe environment to allow uncomfortable conversations and self-realizations, implementation of regular monitoring of indicators tied to the desired behaviors/ changes/ actions, and review and revision of broader systemic policies and practices (such as disciplinary practices, intervention referrals, advanced coursework eligibility processes, etc).

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New Resource! Tools for Success in Disruptions: Immediate Recovery and an Opportunity for Change

For the last 6 months, I’ve been part of the National Comprehensive Center’s Systemic Technical Assistance Team (STAT) and tasked with supporting education agencies (SEAs, LEAs, etc) successfully meet the needs of students and educators during significant disruptions (such as COVID-19). We just released a number of resources, described in more detail below. Not only do I hope that these resources are useful to practitioners in the field who are doing the hard work of figuring out how to safely educate students across the country, I also recognize that working on this collection (in particular the overview guide, Tools for Success in Disruptions: Immediate Recovery and an Opportunity for Change) has been one of the most challenging projects in my professional life. My colleagues have been, and continue to be, incredibly supportive as I’ve bounced a baby to sleep, nursed, shoved teething toy after teething toy into a mouth, and managed both a 3.5 year old and an infant (now 10 months!) through our conference calls and team meetings. I did much of this work during precious rest/nap times and in the evenings sitting on the stairs, while patrolling the toddler’s millionth bedtime aversion tactic, and precious hours when my husband took time off so I could get a few hours on the clock. While challenging, it was great to get my hands and brain into a project that I hope adds value to the field during this current crisis, and future disruptions to come. Kudos to all the working parents out there trying to figure out how to maintain careers while parenting in this crazy time. 

Now for the real purpose of the email – getting folks to use the resources! Education disruptions can be short or long, can be planned for, or can catch us off guard. As education leaders across the country grapple with how to get students and staff back in traditional or remote classrooms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we also have the opportunity to build an education system that better meets the needs of students post-disruption. Tools for Success in Disruptions: Immediate Recovery and an Opportunity for Change guide walks state and district education leaders through a variety of operational, systemic, and teaching & learning topics and provides discussion questions that can be considered during and post a disruption. The questions are designed to probe thinking and identify current and future needs. Additional resources and tools are highlighted that users can dig into for more information and support. A disruption can create a new host of issues and problems to work through, while also creating an opportunity to build a better system for students in the future. 

The rest of the collection that I’ve highlighted in the last week on the blog includes: 


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New Resource: Better Together: A Coordinated Response for Principals and District Leaders

Here’s the fourth document in a collection of resources that the National Comprehensive Center’s Systemic Technical Assistance Team (STAT) developed to support education agencies (SEAs, LEAs, etc) successfully meet the needs of students and educators during significant disruptions (such as COVID-19). This brief, Better Together: A Coordinated Response for Principals and District Leaders, highlights the important role that principals play in operating school buildings every day (with even more responsibilities during a disruption), and how districts can support them do that job.

Districts often discuss the social emotional learning (SEL) needs of their students, but it’s also important to assess the social emotional needs of staff – including building principals. These leaders are managing a school, supporting their staff and students, calming parent/family fears, while also coping with COVID’s impact on their personal lives. Regular one-on-one check-ins and peer networks, and the effective use of a district crisis response team (to lessen the overall burden on individual principals), can be effective tools in supporting principals. In addition, student SEL needs must be addressed to enable students to begin tackling academics again, especially in hard hit communities where students have experienced family loss due to illness or increased trauma during the disruption. The bottom line is that coordinated support for the leaders as everyone figures out how to operate in this new and constantly evolving environment.

There are a few pieces to this collection coming. I’ll post when they are released!

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New Resource: After Action Review Guide

Here’s the third document in a collection of resources that the National Comprehensive Center’s Systemic Technical Assistance Team (STAT) developed to support education agencies (SEAs, LEAs, etc) successfully meet the needs of students and educators during significant disruptions (such as COVID-19). The After Action Review Guide describes the important, but often neglected, process of monitoring, reflecting, and making mid-course corrections. An After Action Review (AAR) is easy in concept – a conversation about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what can be done to get better – but this “simple” conversation is often filled with organizational silos, blaming, scapegoating, personality conflicts, and emotions. A strongly facilitated AAR focuses on the process and the systems, not the people. An AAR helps an organization and a team get stronger.

Right now, school systems (from school buildings up to the state) are barely treading water with figuring out how to keep schools running. But, in a few short weeks, it would be the perfect time to sit back and bring a team together to reflect on the “Return to School” process – what went well, what didn’t go well, and what can be done to improve. Holding an AAR in mid to late October allows a team to make mid-course corrections and start off the next semester with improved systems and structures to operate even more effectively.

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New Resource: Strategic Budgeting: Using Evidence to Mitigate the “COVID Slide” and Move Towards Improvement

Here’s the second document in a collection of resources that the National Comprehensive Center’s Systemic Technical Assistance Team (STAT) developed to support education agencies (SEAs, LEAs, etc) successfully meet the needs of students and educators during significant disruptions (such as COVID-19). In Strategic Budgeting: Using Evidence to Mitigate the “COVID Slide” and Move Towards Improvement, my colleague Bi Vuong examines the impact of school disruptions on student learning, increased learning loss for our most vulnerable students, and the realities of impending budget shortfalls in districts and states across the country. The strategic budgeting process is presented and details ways that budgets may be shifted to better meet the needs of students and their needs (i.e. fixed or mandatory vs variable or discretionary expenses), while acknowledging that student needs must be assessed to figure out which expenses are needed. In addition, strategies to strategically allocate resources by determining impact, and then ways to make trade-off decisions are provided. Finally, the tool encourages aligning resources – from normal operating budgets and any additional disruption-related funding to make the most effective use out of all available dollars. As districts and cities begin their annual budget cycles this Fall, this work is particularly important to ensure that maximum impact is achieved while adverse consequences are limited.

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New resource: Return to School – A Toolkit for Principals

Here’s the first document in a collection of resources that the National Comprehensive Center’s Systemic Technical Assistance Team (STAT) developed to support education agencies (SEAs, LEAs, etc) successfully meet the needs of students and educators during significant disruptions (such as COVID-19). While many school districts are back in action and offering in person, virtual, or a hybrid learning, other districts will fluctuate between the models depending upon local infection rates and cases. Returning to School: A Toolkit for Principals, In the Classroom, at Home or Both is organized around four primary sections: change, communication, collaboration, and care. The sections delve into school and classroom level practices, structures, and systems that support both staff and students (and their families). As learning modes will likely shift throughout the 2020-21 school year, it is important to continually reflect on current practices and how to best serve students and staff as we all function within the constraints of the pandemic.

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New publication – Developing More Rigorous Options to Transform Outcomes for Kids

This recently released publication, Developing More Rigorous Options to Transform Outcomes for Kids, that Corbett Education Consulting created for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) examines a variety of options for state education agencies to consider as they develop and implement the More Rigorous Options (MROs) provision of ESSA. State examples and practical suggestions are provided for MROs including: additional state supports, innovation schools and managed partnerships, charter conversions, extraordinary authority districts, receiverships, and closure. Survey results, interviews with SEA staff and national education experts, and a literature review form the research base.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Education has not waived or adjusted the timeline or expectations of this aspect of federal ESSA law. Despite COVID-19’s chaos, the clock is still ticking for what states will do differently to support and ensure changes occur for the country’s lowest performing schools. So, SEAs need to continue developing their plans for MROs.

Kudos to my colleague Janice Garland who was steadfast in her commitment to seeing this document through.

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COVID-19 highlighting the inequities of our systems

This is a great piece with Paul Reville that I highly recommend reading. The paragraph that felt the most pressing and relevant for me is this one:

“…Parents and the general public have become more aware than at any time in my memory of the inequities in children’s lives outside of school. Suddenly we see front-page coverage about food deficits, inadequate access to health and mental health, problems with housing stability, and access to educational technology and internet. Those of us in education know these problems have existed forever. … We need to correct for these inequities in order for education to realize its ambitious goals. We need to redesign our systems of child development and education.”

This crisis gives us a profound opportunity to really rethink education. Unfortunately, we will be doing it as we are simultaneously trying to provide education in this hybrid chaotic space that is the current crisis. We must try to move along these parallel paths of solving problems and recovering, while also planning for a new normal – one that actually addresses and resolves our societal inequities in a real and lasting way.

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Ensuring Equity Work is Systemic

State Education Agencies, districts, and schools across the country are talking about equity. Researchers, think tanks, and funders are too. Equity audits, equity policies, equity officers, abound. All of this is great, but how are those systems, processes, policies, and procedures are changing due to all of this equity work? If what the adults do every day isn’t changing, is the equity discussion truly making a difference? I believe equity is the removal of systemic barriers that allows an educational system to serve each child what they need to succeed.

A recent EdWeek article on district/CMO equity officers reminded me of some of the lessons I’ve learned and observed from working with schools, districts, and states.

  1. Senior leaders, and the broader community, must decide what equity means to them and their system (school, district, or state). It’s really difficult to make progress if there isn’t a shared definition or vision of what you’re aspiring to achieve.
  2. While it’s important to name one person in charge of equity for accountability and implementation purposes, it’s crucial that the entire leadership team owns the equity work and understands each senior leaders role in making changes.
  3. Equity work must be supported by resources – resources that may include people, time, money, and programs. These may be new additional resources or may be reallocated or repurposed from existing resources. To say that you’re working on equity without providing the needed resources to make changes and implement practices is like selling fool’s gold as the real thing.
  4. Monitoring equity requires disaggregation of data – which may go beyond what the state requires according to ESSA subgroups – i.e. while a state may require data disaggregated based on poverty or special education or English Language Learner identification, schools and districts should still disaggregate data to ensure that policies and procedures don’t have adverse impacts on specific and traditionally underserved subgroups of students (i.e. African American males, Latinos, etc). This type of analysis is where we’re seeing conflicting information in many districts – the achievement gaps are closing (great!), but discipline data shows racial and gender gaps (not good) that still need to be addressed from a systemic level.

Doing equity work and doing it right is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment from leadership (chief/superintendent/principal) and elected officials (boards of education). It requires courageous conversations in communities, but those conversations only get us so far. More importantly, it requires courageous actions to truly change how the educational systems and structures serve them every day.

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Providing educational equity to an influx of new immigrants – the moral, the legal, and the financial implications

Like many school districts across the country, my home school district is in the midst of figuring out how to enroll and support an unexpected influx of new immigrants to our community. For context purposes, our district tends to serve English Language Learners (ELLs) effectively (including the presence of one of the few English/Spanish dual language schools in the state), there’s a strong Latino community established in the city, there’s public transportation, and there’s some reasonably priced housing (note, it’s still really expensive here, but this said is in comparison to the extraordinarily affluent towns that surround us). From an advocacy standpoint and for my strong affiliations with the Latino community- this seems like a great fit. But, it’s not so simple. This is multifaceted issue and I’m likely missing parts of the reality, but here’s a summary of the pieces that I’ve been working through in the last few weeks.

The “easy” pieces:

  • Advocacy – New immigrants have undergone a variety of circumstances and pathways to get here, some of which may have included in their home countries, extreme trauma getting to the border, and/or traumatic experiences in detention facilities after getting over the border. Many likely require access to public transportation, access to work, healthcare, schools, and family/friends to help transition into a new community.
  • Moral – Our overall immigration system is broken. We lack efficient pathways to citizenship and permanent visas. (Personal note – my family has gone through the visa and citizenship process. It took hundreds of hours of work, hundreds of dollars, and several years. We were fortunate to figure out how to navigate the system, but it wasn’t easy.) Bottom line – there are young residents in our community who need and deserve to be educated. The faster we can get students into the education system, the faster we can improve their chances of future success. These are kids, they want and deserve to learn. (In my view) it is the moral obligation of a community to educate its residents. Not doing so results in long-term moral and financial implications that will impact us all.
  • Legal – School districts in the U.S. must educate every child who can prove residency in our community. In addition, school districts cannot (or at least are not supposed to ask) about legal status. Nor, should we generalize what legal status any of these new immigrants may have. Some may be awaiting asylum status or green card visas, some may already have them, some may be illegal, etc. We just don’t know (and it shouldn’t really matter). If they can prove residency, we must educate.

Which presents the major issues:

  • Enrollment projections – Many districts make funding and facility decisions based on enrollment projections and budgets are set the prior year. In our district, we predicted 100 new students between June and the beginning of this school year. That number was pretty accurate. But, then students kept arriving, increasing our enrollment numbers by another 200 students (i.e. now 300 new students vs the projected 100, and new students continue to arrive almost every day).
  • State attendance dates – In CT, that date is Oct 1. Our city and district are scrambling and ramping up community health services to get as many kids vaccinated and completed health exams as quickly as possible. If they aren’t cleared by Oct. 1, they can still enroll in school, but the district will not see any additional per pupil funds for those students from the state. Which means, we will have to figure out how to stretch existing dollars further.
  • Affordable housing/services – Often, newly arrived immigrant families may live with family members or friends. This may result in more people living in an apartment or home than it is zoned for. While the city taxes property based on the property value, it does not tax based on the number of occupants. When more people live in a home than are supposed to be there, the city is unable to collect additional tax revenue to pay for the city services utilized by those residents (i.e. infrastructure like sewer lines, water lines, and the schools). As long as our state(s) continue to rely on property taxes as the primary source of revenue for education, our schools will continue to be short-changed (even with increased enforcement of zoning issues of “illegal” apartments). In addition, without a comprehensive plan for increasing affordable and accessible housing and job training services, we would just shift one problem to another (i.e. homelessness).
  • Financial – Even if the students are registered and enrolled on Oct. 1st, it is highly unlikely the district will receive enough state funds to adequately cover the cost of educating recent immigrants who may require ELL supports (estimated to be 1/3 higher than a non-ELL student’s cost) AND may also require additional trauma support services. Without additional sources of funding coming from Washington DC to address these needs, local districts must shuffle funds around to adequately support these students. Since our budget for the year was set last spring, this likely means not filling vacant positions, or cutting other programs or services to do so.

As a result, while school districts and city leaders try to figure out how to help students as quickly as possible, the broader immigration debate ramps up in local communities. Comments such as “they should learn English before they get here, they should go back where they came from, this is going to hurt our native [insert any town name] kids, etc” fill social media platforms.

There are potential solutions –  The federal government could release funds to local school districts to help cover the cost of providing education and appropriate wraparound services to these new students, AND congress could actually pass comprehensive immigration reform. But, unfortunately in the meantime, local education agencies and cities must work together to try and mobilize partners and resources to do whatever we/they can to support our newest community members. Besides the immediate moral implications of educating and supporting kids, there are deep long-term impacts as these students become adults, get jobs, and contribute to the fabric of our communities as well as the broader tax base. These are our future teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, tradespeople, and business owners. Serving students with quality educations now will serve us all in the long run. These children have been through enough already. It’s time for adults to figure out solutions.

Disclosures: I’m currently a school board member in Norwalk, CT; the enrollment numbers provided are public information and were shared at a board meeting – none of this is privileged information; my husband is an immigrant from Mexico; I lived in Nicaragua for five months; and my own ancestors were all immigrants at various times and in immigration waves from more recently (Lebanon) to a long time ago (Ireland and Dutch).

Other aligned stories/articles:


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