With students across California returning to classrooms earlier this autumn, it’s become undeniable that the ongoing pandemic is exacerbating systemic issues that long pre-date Covid-19.
As in many similar districts, Black students in Los Angeles County schools face unique and serious equity barriers, and many teachers are not equipped to address the disparity in access to opportunities that are obvious in their own classes.
Even beyond cut-and-dried academic outcomes, Black students are less likely than their peers to feel welcomed and supported in the classroom and more likely to face suspensions and other punitive measures. And 40% of Black parents report bullying directed toward their child — the highest percentage of any racial group.
One report released in the summer found that two-thirds of Black parents were reluctant to return their kids to the classroom this year at all, with 43% of those parents citing bullying or low academic standards for Black students as their reasons.
Ensuring that Black students enjoy the same level of security and opportunity afforded to white students in schools begins in the classroom, with teachers who are motivated and prepared with proven tools and strategies to differentiate their instruction for each child, lead classrooms that honor the backgrounds of our kids and better serve all our students.
For example, in our early childhood program, our department has provided a variety of multicultural dolls, books, foods and other toys to help reflect a multitude of our students’ experiences, but not all teachers are able to effectively utilize them due to lack of training on how to integrate them into all areas of their classroom.
In pursuit of a solution (or at least the beginning of one) that will ensure our schools maintain a positive space and high standards for Black students, a group of teachers — members of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles — partnered with Los Angeles Unified’s offices of Human Resources and of Access, Equity and Acceleration, with the support of board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin’s office, to begin writing a micro-credential that will aid teachers in better serving Black students in the city.
Micro-credentials, year-long certification courses operated by the district, are an effective method of deepening educators’ knowledge around a specific subject and assisting them in spreading their new knowledge to others at their school sites. This particular course, known as the Antiracist Instruction Micro-Credential: Highlighting, Building, and Centering Black Excellence, focuses on illuminating the ways that educators can uplift their Black students and provide the support that is currently missing.
When done well, leading a classroom that affirms and supports Black students involves a variety of departures from what may be seen as “standard” today. It takes work and learning to design lessons that feel authentic for students, to choose texts that reflect the true history of the United States and to create classroom environments that allow students the space to question and challenge the status quo.
Perhaps most of all, it requires a deep commitment and effort from educators and those who support them to look inward and do the work to uncover their own biases and unlearn the standards of whiteness that have been ingrained in us since birth. Without institutional backing in the form of micro-credentials and other much-needed resources, the process of challenging biases within our own classrooms can feel daunting or even impossible.
As with the recent adoption of a required ethnic studies curriculum in California, critics of this micro-credential and other efforts may say that focusing on the needs of Black students sows division, builds tension and undermines efforts to heal the rifts both in our nation and in our classrooms. Some will even cite programs like this one as a form of intolerance.
But these micro-credential and similar programs across the state will serve to increase the respect and understanding that educators have for the cultural backgrounds and potential of all of their students, transforming the way they teach and the experiences students have in our schools.
If we start now, using the new micro-credential as a jumping-off point, we can begin to address the needs of 40,000-plus members of the county’s student body and take steps to correct the injustices that have occurred in the district since its inception.
Other large school districts in California that also offer micro-credentialing, such as San Diego Unified, would do well to follow in Los Angeles Unified’s footsteps. We have both the opportunity and the responsibility to ensure that every kid in every school in California is given ample opportunities to succeed and show the world what they can do.
Lyndsey Bonomolo is a special education instructional support teacher for preschool and elementary students at schools across Los Angeles Unified and a member of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles, a teacher-led organization that works to improve student learning and elevate the teaching profession.
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