Since George Floyd’s murder this spring that sparked nationwide demands for racial justice, the question on school and district leaders’ minds has been, “how should I address systemic racism with my school community?”
To help understand how education leaders are talking about racism in their communities and the types of commitments they are making to advance racial justice, EAB conducted an analysis of K-12 anti-racism statements released in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. We reviewed statements from a sample of 80+ institutions. EAB’s dataset included both public school districts and independent schools—small, medium, and large institutions, representing 30 different states across urban, suburban, and rural locales.
To ensure the analysis was comprehensive and captured the breadth of institutional responses, we considered both initial statements released immediately following the murder as well as follow up statements released throughout the summer and fall of 2020.
Our analysis revealed that the majority of K-12 institutions have not publicly committed to anti-racist actions over the course of the last several months. Only 1 in 3 K-12 institutions released a public statement addressing racism, and of the institutions that released a statement only half cited any specific short-term or long-term actions to advance racial justice.
Most Common Examples:
- Conduct a listening tour with the community
- Form a committee or taskforce
- Contract external consultants
Most Common Examples:
- Implicit bias training for all staff
- Partnerships with local or regional organizations
- Reviewing existing policies under a racial equity lens
How do we move from rhetoric to action in K-12?
It is true that institutions have been implementing equity policies and strategies well before this summer’s demands for racial justice without making broad, public statements. But a public statement signals to the school community that an issue is important enough to tackle together and—more importantly—opens a space for conversation and brings transparency to the work the school or district is doing or wants to take on.
Although the time has passed for schools to acknowledge national demands for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd, it’s not too late for school and district leaders to make a public statement and create that space for ongoing dialogue about past, current, and future racial justice efforts. Below are three components of highly effective statements that demonstrate to the school community that their leaders are committed to racial equity and the work that lies ahead.
1. Relate national racial justice conversations to the local community
While many school and district leaders acknowledged the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in their statements, only 20% of statements contextualized racism and the way it has impacted the local communities – both in the past and present.
In their initial statement, the Washtenaw Superintendents’ Association acknowledges the historical complicity of systemic racism in the founding of our country and how it manifests today through police brutality against people of color. And they also bring this national issue home by connecting the conversation to an incident of police brutality against a woman of color in their county. The association explicitly remind readers that “this isn’t something that just happens in other communities.”
2. Set realistic goals for measuring and communicating progress
Education leaders have long been working on equity initiatives, but many community members have lost trust that these efforts will move the dial – why? Partly because these initiatives are typically publicized to the community in reaction to widening achievement gaps, protests over social issues in the community, or politicized conversations around race. A community conversation around anti-racism requires consistent communication and realistic progress updates to create accountability and transparency.
In June 2020, Catlin Gabel School shared their first steps towards racial justice with their school community. The Head of School then followed up in July with a more detailed plan for structural change and a comprehensive update on the work done to date. An additional communication in October sustained their anti-racism conversation through the 20-21 academic year and set an expectation for bi-annual updates on progress and impact.
3. Connect racial justice commitments to institutional vision and strategy
Equity – including racial and ethnic equity – has been a common theme for many K-12 strategic plans through the last decade. Even so, less than 25% of institutions that released a statement relayed to their communities that racial justice commitments are rooted in the institution’s long-term strategy.
Following a call to action from the Lowell community to city leaders, Lowell Public Schools provided the district perspective on their role in combatting systemic racism. The statement makes the district’s commitment to eliminate racial, ethnic, and linguistic achievement and opportunity gaps concrete for the community by explicitly connecting their efforts to their 2020-2025 strategic plan.
Addressing systemic racism can seem daunting, especially during a pandemic. But school and district leaders can—and must—start explicitly addressing systemic racism by acknowledging where they, their leadership teams, and the school or district realistically are with this work. Only then will K-12 institutions be able to move forward with the transformation needed to better serve and uplift Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
Need help talking about racism with other education leaders?
Read the terms you need to know and use