Educating Baltimore City Teachers and Administrators About Racial Equity

Posted February 6, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog educatingbaltimorecityteachers 2020

In late 2019, Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools began to edu­cate staff about racial equi­ty and the his­toric bar­ri­ers that stu­dents of col­or have faced. The work is part of a broad­er dis­trict pol­i­cy — adopt­ed in June 2019 — that aims to imple­ment an equi­ty frame­work, in which offi­cials work to rem­e­dy sys­temic issues that affect stu­dents of color.

To sup­port the effort, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has fund­ed staff train­ing on racial equi­ty and an imple­men­ta­tion plan that will detail how the school sys­tem will work toward build­ing equi­table out­comes for students.

White stu­dents in Bal­ti­more have his­tor­i­cal­ly out­per­formed African Amer­i­can stu­dents by a wide mar­gin in tests mea­sur­ing math and read­ing skills. That’s due to myr­i­ad fac­tors, includ­ing his­toric seg­re­ga­tion, under­fund­ing of pri­mar­i­ly African Amer­i­can schools and the impact pover­ty has had on those families.

It’s imper­a­tive we find solu­tions to even the play­ing field for stu­dents of col­or so that edu­ca­tion­al out­comes are not pre­dictable by race,” says Tracey L. Durant, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Office of Equi­ty for Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools. Over­all, we seek to dis­rupt and dis­man­tle sys­tems that were inten­tion­al­ly cre­at­ed to — and con­tin­ue to — afford advan­tages to some groups while per­pet­u­at­ing racial inequities for others.”

In their first school year imple­ment­ing the equi­ty pol­i­cy, Durant and her office have focused heav­i­ly on train­ing for all lev­els of staff in schools and in the district’s cen­tral office.

Using cur­ricu­lum devel­oped with Casey sup­port, many dis­trict employ­ees — includ­ing teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and oth­er admin­is­tra­tors — have attend­ed two-day sem­i­nars in which they explored the his­tor­i­cal con­text of race, both local­ly and nation­al­ly. Par­tic­i­pants also reflect on their own racial con­scious­ness and experiences.

By April, the school sys­tem plans to have least 500 staff mem­bers par­tic­i­pate in the seminars.

Top school sys­tem admin­is­tra­tors and key com­mu­ni­ty part­ners and stake­hold­ers also attend­ed a sum­mit in Octo­ber host­ed by Pacif­ic Edu­ca­tion­al Group, an orga­ni­za­tion that works with edu­ca­tion­al groups to trans­form beliefs, behav­iors and results so peo­ple of all races can achieve at the high­est lev­els. At the sum­mit, par­tic­i­pants learned about a pro­to­col for how to have hon­est, coura­geous con­ver­sa­tions about race.

Race impacts every­thing, and edu­ca­tors’ per­son­al nar­ra­tives about race mat­ter, as well as their com­fort lev­el in speak­ing about issues relat­ed to race,” Durant says. This is why it’s impor­tant to have them build the capac­i­ty nec­es­sary to address issues relat­ed to race, speak authen­ti­cal­ly and under­stand race’s impact on city schools. Sys­tems don’t change until peo­ple do.”

Durant and oth­er school lead­ers will also con­tin­ue to build an imple­men­ta­tion plan that will include how to mea­sure suc­cess in numer­ous areas relat­ed to equi­ty, such as:

  • cre­at­ing and using cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant instruction; 
  • train­ing edu­ca­tors to be racial­ly competent;
  • ensur­ing resources are dis­trib­uted equi­tably; and
  • recruit­ing and retain­ing teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors of color.

In recent years, more and more school sys­tems across the nation have adopt­ed sim­i­lar approach­es to equi­ty. The Atlanta Board of Edu­ca­tion, for instance, approved a plan in April 2019 that calls on the dis­trict to rem­e­dy prac­tices that often result in the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of stu­dents of col­or in spe­cial edu­ca­tion, dis­ci­pline and alter­na­tive schools and the under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of stu­dents of col­or in gift­ed and tal­ent­ed and Advanced Place­ment courses.

Putting a racial equi­ty pol­i­cy on the books is impor­tant,” says Roger Schul­man, pres­i­dent of The Fund for Edu­ca­tion­al Excel­lence, who served on a task force that pro­duced Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools’ racial equi­ty pol­i­cy. It means that the goals set forth will not be tied to a spe­cif­ic lead­er­ship team but will con­tin­ue to be part of a school system’s prac­tices in per­pe­tu­ity. We hope fun­ders inter­est­ed in this work — and oth­er school sys­tems impact­ed by his­toric racism — real­ize how pro­found a change that is.”

It’s key that equi­ty poli­cies remain in place over time, as it will like­ly take many years, per­haps decades, to reverse the effects that sys­temic racism has had on schools — both in Bal­ti­more and through­out the nation, says Gena O’Keefe, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foundation.

Things aren’t going to change overnight — this is long-term, cul­ture-shift­ing work,” O’Keefe says. Still, the Foun­da­tion is pleased it’s help­ing jump­start the process of build­ing a more equi­table school sys­tem in Bal­ti­more. We hope more area fun­ders rec­og­nize how impor­tant it is to fund this work and part­ner with us.” 

Learn approach­es to advanc­ing race equi­ty with­in a sys­tem or organization

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