I have often shared links to Education Week posts by Walt Gardner in this blog. His pieces are short, to-the-point, and often, in my opinion, right on target.
However, I have to say that I was shocked and appalled by his latest post, The ‘Racial Equity’ Obsession. In it, he begins by writing a misleading characterization of events at the St. Paul public schools based on an opinion article headlined, incredibly, “No Thug Left Behind” (see this NPR piece about the racial overtones of the word “thug”). The article, and Gardner’s summary, paints a picture of school mayhem and “destroyed teacher morale” because of efforts to reduce racial disparity in discipline. He then uses that inaccurate description to condemn efforts in schools that are responding to racial disparities in school discipline that are often based in teacher bias. His evidence is the “thug” article and the memory of his personal teaching experience, and cites no other evidence. Of course, he omits the countless studies that have, indeed, connected a large percentage of racial discipline differences to teacher bias (links to that research can be found later in this post).
How do I know that Gardner’s description of the events in Minnesota are wildly inaccurate? Well, I actually asked teachers in Minnesota about what happened.
I learned that St. Paul teachers were, and continue to be, very concerned about racial equity in their schools. I also learned that professional development on bias were incomplete, and that a past contract with administrators included a merit pay clause based on suspension reduction. As Jim Peterson, the principal at our school, has told me, “If you want us to reduce suspensions, I can do that easily. But that does nothing to get to the root causes behind suspensions.”
I asked Mary Cathryn Rucker, a teacher on leave from St. Paul public schools currently serving as Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Teacher, her perspective on Gardner’s post. She replied, ” His characterization is incredibly inaccurate . It does not recognize the complexity of the work teachers and students are trying to do. In his post, he is promoting the very racist tropes we are trying to destroy.”
The evidence that teacher bias exists is overwhelming. We cannot wish it away with “alternative facts.” I have been and, I’m sure, continue to be guilty of it. Trust me, if you believe you are free of bias, just ask your students of color, as I have done. They have not been afraid to answer my question with specific examples.
Change is hard. Our high school has been working hard for two years moving towards restorative practices, and it has not been easy. But claiming that we teachers should live in a “color-blind” world, as Gardner suggests, is a picture not rooted in the reality of our world today (see “Colorblind Education Is The Wrong Response,” Ed Week).
Education Week, the publication that published his post, is an extraordinary publication, and one where I have published a weekly teacher advice column for many years. I was surprised that such a admirable journal would allow the piece to be published. In response to my concerns, editors pointed me to the disclaimer Mr. Gardner’s blog has (mine has a similar one):
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.
Yes, I understand that we bloggers have our own opinions. However, it seems to me that having an opinion based on facts would be a reasonable bar to have to reach in order to publish a piece. I don’t think Gardner’s piece reaches that bar.
Here are links to articles and studies (many of the articles contain direct links to the research) about the role of teacher bias:
Understanding Implicit Bias appeared in The American Educator.
Want To Address Teachers’ Biases? First, Talk About Race is from NPR (here’s a longer version).
How you can eliminate bias in your own classroom is from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
When Implicit Bias Shapes Teacher Expectations is from NEA Today.
Tackling Implicit Bias is from Teaching Tolerance.
Just How Racist Are Schoolteachers? is from Mother Jones.
5 Keys to Challenging Implicit Bias is by Shane Shafir and appeared in Edutopia.
Four Ways Teachers Can Reduce Implicit Bias appeared in The Huffington Post.
Biased Discipline at My School is by Kelly Wickham Hurst and appeared in Edutopia.
Teachers Undo Personal Biases To Help Students Of Color Engage is from Colorado Public Radio.
I Have Zero Tolerance for Advocates of Zero Tolerance Discipline is by Justin Cohen.
The New York Times has run an article headlined Does Teacher Diversity Matter for Students’ Learning? It’s a good overview of research, along with offering some practical suggestions for how those of us who are white educators can deal with our implicit biases.
More related resources can be found at:
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section…