Alison Yin for EdSource

Weeks of racial justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic have together drawn much-needed attention to the race-based disparities embedded in our institutions, from policing to health care. These disparities are also deeply rooted in our communities and schools.

During these prolonged school disruptions, Black, Latinx and low-income students have been disproportionately affected. As we learned in real-time, these students were less likely to have the devices and internet connectivity necessary to engage in effective distance learning. Their families were, and are, more likely to experience loss of employment income and more vulnerable to housing and food insecurity.

To compound the disruption, students have lost many of the academic, social and emotional supports they normally get from school. As a result, most educators and experts anticipate that already-wide achievement gaps affecting Black and Latinx students will widen during this time.

As school resumes, state leaders must prioritize measuring race-based disparities and respond with appropriate resources and interventions. But importantly, they should not act as though these are new problems to be fixed.

Just as the killing of George Floyd left government officials with no option but to finally confront systematic problems with the way policing has been funded and carried out for generations, so too must we look at and address the root causes of our achievement gaps.

Education equity advocates and researchers are generally agreed on what those root causes are. Black and brown students experience differences in resources and opportunities, including access to high-quality preschool, well-funded schools, advanced coursework and college-going supports. They can also experience lower expectations from educators in school and are more often punished for the same behaviors that are ignored in white students. These differences in opportunity lead to differences in student success.

These inequities were carefully documented in a 2019 consensus report by the National Research Council (NRC) called Monitoring Educational Equity. That report recommended our state and country create a national system for measuring educational disparities so that our systems are held accountable not only for improving performance, but also for ensuring equitable opportunities for all students to achieve and thrive.

Particularly salient right now: The report recommends that education leaders measure disparities in school climate, including student perceptions of safety, academic support and teacher-student trust.

They also suggest leaders measure disparities in the emotional, behavioral, mental and physical health supports provided to different groups of students and distribute resources according to need. As state leaders craft policies and design practices to respond to and rebuild from this three-pronged health, education and economic crisis, these are the sorts of data that should guide them.

While some state leaders, like California Governor Gavin Newsom, have had the courage to make equity a priority when it comes to coronavirus relief funding, continued and additional state leadership is needed when it comes to measuring and addressing student learning and whole-child needs.

While educators can and should use data to drive their instruction, this cannot be left entirely to local control, given the importance of identifying systemwide needs and disparities.

Our state leaders need to be clear about what learning they expect to happen during this next school year, especially when we know that many students — particularly students of color — are falling further behind. They should establish clear expectations for instructional time.

They should require districts to find ways of measuring engagement and participation. They should help districts diagnose and address students’ academic needs by creating and providing quality assessments and assistance to help address gaps revealed by the data.

They should require districts, in continuity of learning plans, to explain how they will ensure that students continue to receive high-quality learning, enrichment, and non-academic supports and how schools and districts will measure their progress against clear goals.

In addition, our state leaders must help counties and districts identify and address students’ social and emotional needs, implementing services informed by the science of how children learn and develop.

The state doesn’t need to rush back into standards-aligned testing and accountability just yet. Schooling and student needs have changed, and we should be responsive to that. As this crisis has highlighted, our students’ needs are much more complex than test results will ever reveal. But while traditional accountability systems are on hold, we should use this moment as a time to ramp up new efforts to measure, report and address educational disparities.

•••

Christopher Edley, Jr. is Co-Founder of The Opportunity Institute and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, and he served as chair of the committee that wrote the National Research Council “Monitoring Educational Equity” report. Maria Echaveste is the President and CEO of the Opportunity Institute. She has served as a senior White House official in the Clinton administration and has been a consultant, lecturer, long-time community leader, and corporate attorney.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on legislation or policy. We welcome guest commentaries that reflect the diversity of California. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The canary is dead on the floor of the K-12 Education mine. In fact, it is in an advanced state of rigor mortis. We do not need more data about the achievement gap. The root cause of the problem is the adults in the system not the children. Children of color and economically disadvantaged students are most dependent upon quality curriculum, professional practices, and technology. That is not what they are getting. In fact most of the … Read More

    The canary is dead on the floor of the K-12 Education mine. In fact, it is in an advanced state of rigor mortis.

    We do not need more data about the achievement gap.

    The root cause of the problem is the adults in the system not the children.

    Children of color and economically disadvantaged students are most dependent upon quality curriculum, professional practices, and technology. That is not what they are getting. In fact most of the students within the K-12 education system are not getting it. The Black and Brown children are most sensitive to low quality instruction as they actually depend on it. White and Asian students can work around a totally broken K-12 system through tutoring and/or after school academic support.

    The kids do not require “social-emotional support.” They are resilient and will respond well to high quality teaching and learning. The focus on social-emotional support is a red herring blame the victim game. We always play this blame game with the families and children rather than look in the mirror at our own woeful professional practices.

    A little “focused support” for the Black and Brown children is not going to work. We need to fully transform the moribund K-12 education system by defunding the Colleges of Education and rebuilding them so that they recruit the finest and train them well. We must make teaching the raison d’etre of the system by establishing a strong professional career ladder for teachers and administrators.

    No amount of tinkering around the edges is going to fix the totally broken K-12 Education system as it is an embarrassment to our society.

    The kids deserve much better. The children need to rise up, resist, and offer solutions as the adults will continue to beat around the bush.

  2. Dan Plonsey 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The authors identify some of the root causes of inequitable outcomes, but economic inequality is the root cause of those root causes. It seems to me that rather than more measurement -- we've been doing nothing but measure since NCLB -- it's time to begin the actual work of addressing economic inequality. CA's billionaires have increased their wealth by $141 billion since March! Compare that number to the state's $54 billion revenue shortfall. Any … Read More

    The authors identify some of the root causes of inequitable outcomes, but economic inequality is the root cause of those root causes. It seems to me that rather than more measurement — we’ve been doing nothing but measure since NCLB — it’s time to begin the actual work of addressing economic inequality. CA’s billionaires have increased their wealth by $141 billion since March! Compare that number to the state’s $54 billion revenue shortfall. Any ideas?

    Replies

    • Dr. Bill Conrad 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      No Dan. Economics is a red herring.The root cause problem is the failed and laughable K-12 education system. Children of color are most sensitive to quality instruction. They and most of the other students in the K-12 education system are not getting a quality education. It is time for the grownups in the K-12 chaotic and lost in the fog system to look in the mirror and recognize that it is the failure of their … Read More

      No Dan.

      Economics is a red herring.The root cause problem is the failed and laughable K-12 education system. Children of color are most sensitive to quality instruction. They and most of the other students in the K-12 education system are not getting a quality education.

      It is time for the grownups in the K-12 chaotic and lost in the fog system to look in the mirror and recognize that it is the failure of their aligned professional practices that play the most significant role in the achievement gap. Full stop.