Do you care about equity? Do you want all of your students, regardless of their socioeconomic status (SES), to have a real chance for success?
Of course you do. Most teachers consider themselves fiercely protective of students who come from challenging backgrounds. Many of us consider education as a great equalizer—a way for all children to gain access to the opportunity to lead satisfying and productive lives. Yet there’s a good chance that your school is employing practices that strip away hope and opportunity from your most vulnerable students.
In this series of blog posts, we (Mike and Earl–to learn more about who we are, check out our bios at the bottom of this post) hope to shed light on some of these inequities that we see sewn into the fabric of many schools. Some of these may surprise you, but we believe that these common school practices disadvantage the already disadvantaged. It is our hope that through raising awareness about these systems (and through offering practical alternatives) you can continue to build schools that truly allow all students to thrive.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about a couple of things. It’s dangerous to overgeneralize. Not all children who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds live troubled lives, and not all children growing up in middle- or upper-class homes lead stable lives of privilege. In this series, we will keep coming back to economic inequities because the correlation between low SES and school achievement is so clear.
Also, these blog posts are not about race per se. It’s no secret that despite a whole raft of anti-discrimination legislation, there continues to be a discouraging connection between race and SES in the United States. It is something that is impossible to overlook. However, in our experience, the practices we discuss in this series negatively impact students from low SES background regardless of race. For example, in schools where nearly all of the children are white, students from poorer homes suffer to a greater degree from these practices than do students from middle class homes.
Let’s also be clear about the kinds of schools where the practices you’re about to read about are most likely to create inequities. Interestingly, it’s not in high poverty schools. Granted, the following practices could be damaging (and should be reconsidered) in just about any setting, but if nearly 100% of your student body is living in poverty, these practices will be equally damaging in your school. These practices will exacerbate inequities in schools where students come from a mix of SES backgrounds.
These inequities may be especially hidden if many students come from middle or upper-class backgrounds, because the damage being done to students from lower SES backgrounds may go unnoticed. The practices may seem like they’re working for many students. Similarly, if the teachers in your school grew up in, and now live in, middle class settings, these practices will likely go unquestioned. They’re such a part of the fabric of many schools and the time honored traditions of teaching, they didn’t/don’t seem problematic for teachers—either when they were children or now that they may be parents.
So, what are these common systems that schools have in place that might make life even harder for kids who are already struggling? Why do we have such a hard time seeing these systems through the lens of equity? Perhaps most importantly—what might we do instead—to support safe and vigorous learning environments for all students?
For the answers to these questions and more, check out this series of posts. Each highlights one of these damaging school practices and offers realistic alternatives. Make sure to share your ideas as well. Ask questions, make comments, and offer suggestions in the comments section of each post. Together, we’ll achieve a greater conversation!