Steven Z. Athanases is professor in the School of Education at University of California, Davis. He holds a PhD from Stanford and received postdoctoral fellowships from the Spencer and McDonnell Foundations. Athanases draws upon nearly a decade of public school teaching as a touchstone for his work. His teaching and research, honored by various organizations, focus on diversity and equity in English teaching and teacher education. He received a 2015 Faculty Citation Award for career achievement in leadership in the furthering of equal opportunity and diversity objectives within the UC Davis community. Athanases has written about infusion of multicultural content in curriculum and student voice in instruction. A recent project examined processes and values of preservice teacher inquiry in culturally and linguistically diverse, mostly high poverty classrooms, with many English language learners. A second project with several colleagues examines school- and classroom-level factors that appear promising in meeting the needs of lower-income Latina/o youth at several high schools with missions and signs of success in fostering college-going cultures. A current project focuses on self-reflexive inquiry into language as a means to explore ways to leverage one’s resources from one’s linguistic and cultural autobiography for use in teaching. Athanases can be reached at szathanases@ucdavis.edu.

We need to locate, nurture, and guide the budding intellect of adolescents in urban schools. This requires learning activity that makes the present challenging and engaging, with larger purposes that link to futures of continued learning and action. Challenging curriculum benefits from what Cole (1996) calls prolepsis, linking future actions with the present, placing the end in the beginning. Rather than focusing activity on bite-size chunks that prepare for some distant meaningful learning, teachers can design activity so students access rich potential of larger goals within focused present action. Why wait to take on the big ideas?

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Dr. Moore is a senior scholar and senior program area director for youth development at Child Trends since 1982. Dr. Moore was the founding chair of the Effective Programs and Research Task Force for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  She currently serves on the Evaluation Advisory Committee for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the evaluation and research committee for Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is currently working on multiple  evaluation  projects, including evaluations of Abriendo Puertas, Pregnancy Prevention Approaches, Personal Responsibility Education Program, and Trauma Systems Therapy for KVC. Dr. Moore earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan.

Educational achievement is not only critical to later workforce success; but education contributes to adults’ physical, mental, and social health as well.  Unfortunately, educational success is not assured, especially for children from families and communities that are economically and socially distressed.  These students tend to have numerous unmet needs that interfere with their school success.

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Amelia Marcetti Topper has been a part of the education community for over 16 years as a teacher and researcher. She is a doctoral candidate in Arizona State University’s Education Policy and Evaluation program, specializing in Higher Education. Her current research is on issues of access and equity in higher education from the perspective of the capabilities approach, a human development framework. Her dissertation project uses survey, interview, visual elicitation, and participatory ranking methods to explore the tension between perceptions of community college “student success” between students, faculty, and administrators. She holds a Master’s in Leadership in Teaching from Notre Dame of Maryland University and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and the History of Mathematics and Sciences with a minor in Classical Languages from St. John’s College.

The Equity Alliance’s recently published blog post by Dr. Stuart Rhoden calls attention to the growing number of families who are choosing to opt their children out of taking mandatory state standardized exams. Dr. Rhoden argued that opting out is damaging to our students by sending the message that it is okay to give up when faced with a hard task, and that families need to work within the system to bring about changes in accountability measures instead of removing themselves from it out of protest. As I read his commentary, I was struck by his reliance on a popular and pernicious narrative dominating current discussions of what it takes for students to be successful. This type of language, which often uses terms like grit, persistence, perseverance, and sacrifice, is perhaps as damaging as our high stakes testing climate to the education community in that it glorifies the talents and commitment of the individual above all else. On face value, these words feel right; we want our children and our students to be able to navigate obstacles and not be defeated by setbacks. At the same time, we owe it to them to thoroughly understand the assumptions that underlie these concepts about learning and success, and question their real usefulness in explaining what goes into student outcomes – before we apply them.

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Stuart Rhoden, Ph.D. is originally from Chicago, IL. He has been in education for over 15 years. He worked in Washington D.C. and Chicago on education policy and advocacy. He also was a high school teacher in Chicago and Los Angeles for a number of years. For the past five years, he has been a lecturer teaching on issues of culture and diversity, education policy, education philosophy and youth cultures in colleges both in Philadelphia and Phoenix. He currently lives in Phoenix, where he is a full-time Instructor at Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In the past three or four years, there has been a grassroots movement across the country created by some progressive educational groups surrounding students “Opting out” of mandatory high-stakes state test.  My opinion of this is that it is a copout. Until we change the system at broader systemic levels, we are not adequately preparing our students to succeed if we tell them they can opt-out of assessments along the way. This goes well beyond the “work harder/smarter” or “bootstraps” mentality that is often cited as code for structural inequality, but rather my perspective stems from an insistence that students can shine in an inequitable system as it is currently constructed. What is equally important is that as the adults; including educators, policy makers and researchers, need to consider more appropriate ways to analyze positive academic achievement, as well as strive towards creating more accurate measures of student achievement. The student’s role, while important, should not focus on being change agents of systemic inequality (that should be left to the adults), but rather beacons of light who consistently overcome systemic inequality. Read more

Aydin Bal is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Professor Bal studies racial disproportionality and capacity building in local education agencies for systemic transformation. His recent research projects aims at developing culturally responsive intervention methodologies for ecologically valid, socially just, and sustainable transformations in schools. As a practitioner, Professor Bal has worked with youth from historically marginalized communities and refugees who experience behavioral difficulties. He is directing a statewide research project, Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Youth from nondominant cultural and linguistic backgrounds are disproportionately exposed to exclusionary and punitive school disciplinary actions (e.g., detention, suspension, and expulsion) and placed in special education for emotional disturbance (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). The racialization of school discipline has a long history (Children’s Defense Fund, 1975). These disparities hold today, with African American, Latino, and Native American students disproportionally subjected to harsher punishments for less objective reasons such as disrespect, insubordination, or excessive noise (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Losen & Orfield, 2012). Racial disproportionality in behavioral outcomes has been a major social justice problem that contributes to unacceptable and detrimental consequences in the lives of nondominant youth, their families and teachers and the society as a whole (Noguera, 2003).

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Melanie Bertrand is an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles, and served as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California. Her research employs micro- and macro-level lenses to explore the potential of student voice to challenge systemic racism in education.

(Photo Credit: Deanna Alejandra Dent)

“The claim we found is that students don’t have access to culturally relevant textbooks. I feel that if textbooks will have stories about my culture, I’ll feel more engaged with the class.” Alma, Latina high school student

Alma[1] made this statement to an engrossed audience at an educational conference in 2011. She and other Students of Color were presenting research findings from a study they implemented on access to educational resources—like textbooks and technology—at their urban high schools. After Alma left the podium, another student spoke about the surveys and interviews the group conducted to arrive at the claim, showing a PowerPoint slide with the following quotes from high school students:

“The only thing the history book mentions about Black culture is slavery.”

“The history I know is about White culture; I don’t know [anything] about my culture!” Read more

Shirin Vossoughi is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, where she draws on ethnographic methods to study the social, cultural, historical, and political dimensions of learning and educational equity. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she is personally invested in the development of educational settings for youth from migrant, immigrant, and diasporic backgrounds. Building on her work as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the Exploratorium, Vossoughi is currently studying equity-oriented after-school programs that blend scientific inquiry, literacy, and the arts. She takes a collaborative approach to research, partnering with teachers and students to study the conditions that foster educational dignity and possibility.

Test scores. Accountability. Global economic competitiveness. Grit. These words dominate the current discourse of educational reform. They embody cultural assumptions and values about children’s needs and capacities, about what teaching and learning should look like, and about what they are for. The rigidities they impose on the everyday lives of teachers and students are often justified through the hollow appropriation of “equity” and “Civil Rights.”

But there are other words, those closer to the human experience of education and what it could be for: relationships, love, ideas, questions, social analysis, history, community, intellectual respect. Words that signal another set of values, dreams of another kind of world. Read more

We obtained permission to reprint in our blog series a letter written by Rae Paris. The letter was originally published in blackspaceblog.com. Rae Paris addresses the historic and recent events of police brutality. It has been signed by over 1,000 Black professors around the world.

Photo caption: Black students and professors, Beaumont Tower, Michigan State University, December 6, 2014.

The citation for the original publication is:

Paris, Rae. (December 8, 2014). An Open Letter of Love to Black Students: #BlackLivesMatter. Retrieved from http://blackspaceblog.com/2014/12/08/an-open-letter-of-love-to-black-students-blacklivesmatter/

Rae Paris is from Carson, California. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Common, Guernica, Dismantle, Solstice, and other journals. Her work has been supported by the NEA Literature Fellowship, and residencies from Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Hambidge Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and VONA. Her poem “The Forgetting Tree” was selected as Best of the Net 2013, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart. She teaches fiction at the Bread Loaf School of English, and lives and writes mostly in East Lansing, Michigan where she’s Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Michigan State University. 

We are Black professors.

We are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, and mothers.

We’re writing to tell you we see you and hear you. Read more

 Nonie K. Lesaux is the Thompson  Professor of Education and Society at the  Harvard Graduate School of Education and  leads a research program guided by the  goal of increasing opportunities to learn for  students from diverse linguistic, cultural,  and economic backgrounds.  Lesaux’s  research and teaching focus primarily on  the cognitive and linguistic factors that  enable children and adolescents to read effectively.  Her research has included longitudinal studies investigating reading and language development among English language learners as well as experimental evaluations of academic vocabulary instruction.  She is currently a Principal Investigator of a longitudinal study investigating the interrelated dimensions of linguistically diverse children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and literacy development. Her research on reading development and instruction, and her work focused on using data to prevent reading difficulties, informs setting-level interventions, as well as public policy at the national and state level. The practical applications of this work are featured in several publications written for education leaders and practitioners, including one book and one widely circulated state-level literacy report, the latter of which forms the basis for a Third Grade Reading Proficiency bill passed in the state’s House of Representatives.  Lesaux’s scholarship has resulted in two prestigious early career awards—the William T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholars Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the U.S. Government.

It was inevitable that Janette and I would cross paths, as two scholars deeply committed to increasing opportunities-to-learn for children whose home language(s) include languages other than English–a population of children commonly referred to as English learners (ELs).  But I was even luckier than that.  I had the privilege of collaborating with Janette on some key projects.  Most recently, our work together revolved around an instructional approach that holds great promise for improving outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse students and reducing their disproportionate representation in special education: The Response to Intervention (RtI) model.   Together, Janette and I designed guidance, resources, and professional development modules to support educators as they shifted their instruction and assessment practices to fit this approach, using RtI as a platform for increasing learning outcomes for ELs.  We first tried this out with a large group of educator teams in the New York City schools and then wrote up some of this work for wider dissemination. I hold these memories dear, and am still engaged in initiatives to support the implementation of RtI in linguistically diverse settings, continuing to cultivate the progress toward equity that Janette championed.

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Rebeca Burciaga is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and a member of the Core Faculty for the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. Dr. Burciaga’s research centers on understanding and challenging educational practices and structures that (re)produce social inequalities for historically marginalized communities, including/specifically Latino students.  Her research in schools and communities spans over 20 years and includes mixed-methods research on pathways from preschool to the professoriate, the experiences of students who leave high school before graduation, and the ways in which geographic regions structure inequalities. She specializes the study of qualitative research methodologies including testimonio and ethnography. Her current research and teaching is focused on cultivating asset-based mindsets in teachers and administrators that work with youth of color.  Dr. Burciaga is a co-founder and co-coordinator of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles.  Her research has been supported and recognized by the Spencer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the American Association of University Women. Her most recent scholarship can be found in Equity & Excellence in Education, the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, and the Educational Administration Quarterly.

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