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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Schools spend $20 billion a year for equity training, but does it work?

Public schools spend billions on equity training, but have no idea what works, writes Katherine Reynolds Lewis in USA Today.

Milwaukee Public Schools is trying to close achievement and discipline gaps.

"None of the 42 large U.S. school districts interviewed . . . measure the impact of their training against metrics or evidence generated in an objective research study," Lewis reports. "As a result, it’s hard to distinguish effective from useless diversity, equity and inclusion training."

Tampa, where about half the students are Hispanic or black, "puts a heavy emphasis on equity and racial justice when allocating the $36 million it spends each year on professional development for educators," she writes. Training includes "implicit bias, culturally relevant pedagogy and connecting with English-language learners."

The district doesn't know whether the training changes teachers' beliefs, their teaching or student outcomes.

Lewis also visited a mostly black high school in Milwaukee, James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC), then led by Jineen McLemore Torres.

The biggest change has been prioritizing educators’ responsibility for students’ social and emotional needs, rather than drilling down on math and reading lessons. Students give input on norms and expectations at the beginning of the year. If a student cusses Torres out, she won’t leap to punishment. Instead, she’ll bide her time until they need a hall pass or a bathroom unlocked and let that request prompt a conversation about the cursing.

Does less focus on math and reading and more tolerance for cursing the principal seem like a way to improve academic achievement? Or student behavior?

The racial achievement gap is large in Milwaukee, and black students get in trouble more often.

“Our big push is looking at the role of bias in our schools and what are the strategies to disrupt it,” said Jon Jagemann, the district’s discipline manager, who brought the Courageous Conversation organization’s one-day seminar about race and equity to the district. All administrators, on-site social workers and counselors have taken it. About 80% of classroom teachers have taken it, putting the district on track to train all staff by March.

Training on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been around since the early '90s, under different names. Sixty percent of large districts USA Today surveyed require it for all teachers; 35 percent require it for support staff as well.

UnboundEd focuses on showing teachers how to provide high-quality, grade-level instruction to all students.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina starts every training "with educators examining their positions of power and privilege," Lewis was told. But the district also took educators to an UnboundEd summit that focused on how to teach at grade level, even if students didn't seem ready.

In a group on elementary school English/Language Arts, a teachers said she'd "realized the bias she’d internalized, and rose to the challenge of supporting any child in her classroom to understand and master the grade-level material," writes Lewis. "The conversation continued about strategies for clarifying complex concepts and helping students decode words."

That sounds like it might improve student outcomes.

Employers also are spending billions on DEI training. There's little evidence of effectiveness, writes Jesse Singal, and some evidence mandatory sessions that "blame white people — or their culture — for harming people of color" does more harm than good. It may reinforce stereotypes and cause resentment. And lawsuits.

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