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Building Systemic Capacity to Reduce Racial Inequalities in Districts: An Integrated Approach of Equitable Practices and Team Learning

Fri, April 5, 2:25 to 3:55pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Floor: 800 Level, Hall F


Amid growing concern about racial inequalities, racial equity policies and initiatives have emerged in districts across the country (Curry-Stevens et al., 2013). Many systems have relied on two existing levers of organizational improvement: school-based teacher teams and the use of data (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Sun, Penuel, Frank, Gallagher, & Youngs, 2013; Sun, Loeb, & Grissom, 2017). Yet, we know little about the effectiveness and potential mechanisms of these strategies for disrupting racial inequalities. School-based racial equity teams (RETs) within district-wide equity initiatives represent an effort to build organizational capacity and provide leadership to address issues of race in discipline, opportunities to learn, and student outcomes. We conceptualize a framework that guides a networked, systemic capacity building approach that facilitates collective learning for equity-centric change in schools.

Our framework integrates two strands of research: one from race and equity-focused cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) to examine and intervene in the everyday interactions that shape school processes (Vygotsky, 1978). We situate our framework within the hybrid theory-method of participatory design research (PDR) (Bang & Voussoughi, 2016), such as social change experiments (Gutierrez, 2008; Gutierrez & Voussoughi, 2009) and formative interventions (Engestrom, 2011).

To attend to the spread and implementation of equitable practice across a broader educational system, we draw theories of networked policy implementation (e.g., Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004; Powell, 1990). Concepts from these theories illuminate how the interactions and practices of multiple actors create the conditions for coordination and change (Bryk et al., 2010; Cohen & Ball, 2001; Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004). In particular, teacher teams have been widely used in many school improvement reforms (Sun, Penner, & Loeb, 2017; Coburn & Russell, 2008). Student learning opportunities and achievement are a function not just of one’s own teacher but of the combined effort of the classroom teacher and others with whom they work (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009; Sun, Loeb, & Grissom, 2017).

We conducted a systematic literature review on related work, attending to empirical studies that involve rigorous design and methods and account for the research-practice partnership literature.

We propose a conceptual framework that leverages teams of educators and parents to develop and implement equitable instructional and leadership practices to foster racial equity in schools. Our framework fosters systemic racial equity capacity in schools through collaboration among district, union and researchers and by implementing these tenets: (1) reform efforts need to focus on teachers’ instructional practice and preparation towards actionable knowledge to work effectively with culturally and economically diverse learners; (2) effective reform efforts should leverage the wealth of educators’ knowledge within schools and foster the capacity of teacher teams; (3) effective reform efforts also foster classroom, school, and district collective learning; (4) effective programs embed data use in the reform process and use data to guide on-going, systemic, and sustainable improvement in the long term.

This paper fills a significant gap in the literature, policy and practice by offering a comprehensive and actionable framework about how to enact dramatic, fundamental, and systematic changes in schools to foster racially equitable practices and learning environments in schools.


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