In Boston’s current education system, students of color, particularly our Black and Brown students, are disproportionately impacted by gaps in opportunity and outcomes. Race cannot continue to predict educational outcomes for our students in Boston.
Racial equity in education can only be achieved if every child, regardless of race or ethnicity, has access to the opportunities, resources, and support they need to thrive. To do this we must both attend to students’ individual backgrounds, communities, and strengths, and address the root causes of systemic oppression in our schools.
The Racial Equity Seed Fund is a collective endeavor launched in 2020 by EdVestors in partnership with Boston Public Schools and Boston University that implements, tests, and scales solutions to advance racial equity for Boston students through a Networked Improvement Community Process. The work is grounded in the belief that root causes and effective solutions can and must be surfaced by those most impacted by racial inequities – students and families of color – and that they should be positioned with decision-making power to enact change.
In response to the Seed Fund’s ongoing analyses, Boston Public Schools and local organizations have been working to cultivate and maintain a greater sense of belonging, and positioning those most impacted in decision-making within their learning environments and communities. The following examples highlight some of the strategies schools have taken to enhance student engagement and create a climate of inclusion as part of the Racial Equity Seed Fund.
Equitable Grading at Boston Latin Academy (BLA)
Boston Latin Academy’s student population – with 28% Hispanic, 25% White, 24% Black, and 17% Asian students – is the most diverse school in Boston and one of the most diverse in Massachusetts. BLA surfaced a racial inequity in their school: despite Black students receiving high Advanced Placement (AP) scores, they were more likely to receive lower scores in their regular classes and have lower enrollment rates in AP courses compared to other racial groups.
As part of their work in the Racial Equity Seed Fund, BLA gathered staff, alumni, community members, families, and students most impacted for a series of dialogues and focus groups to identify the root causes of this gap. Larger issues surfaced, including school-wide grading policies, academic culture, and lack of sense of belonging among students. Students of color shared desires for a stronger culture of care, more opportunities to receive feedback, and more positive relationships with teachers.
After several staff and community action planning sessions, the school removed grade requirements for AP courses and created a stronger course selection process that promoted student agency and advocacy. Students had more opportunities for teacher feedback and peer-to-peer collaboration. Meanwhile, teachers received culturally responsive professional development to aid in educating and building relationships with all students. BLA is committed to this work and continues to collect feedback from students of color on the effects of these shifts.
Culturally Responsive Instruction at Mozart Elementary
The Mozart Elementary School prioritized focusing on gaps in student achievement, attendance, and enrichment opportunities for students of color and other historically marginalized populations. Findings from student and family interviews, focus groups, and surveys revealed that culturally responsive practices and anti-racist teaching were not reaching all students. They found that this was due to differing understandings of inclusive, culturally-responsive, and anti-racist practices among Mozart staff.
The school also observed that most enrichment opportunities existed outside of the school. Many students and families had difficulty accessing these opportunities due to transportation challenges and conflicting family schedules.
To increase the connection among students and families, the Mozart changed their schedule to include an in-school enrichment block. They expanded their Race and Ethnicity Committee to include students, purchased more than 200 culturally responsive texts, and engaged in equitable literacy professional development. The school continues to participate in the Racial Equity Seed Fund and examine how increased enrichment opportunities and family engagement affect student achievement, attendance, and sense of belonging.
Anti-racism Training at Literations, Boston Partners in Education, 826 Boston
Three of the Racial Equity Seed Fund’s community organization partners – Literations, Boston Partners in Education, and 826 Boston – recognized that nonprofit volunteers, who are majority white, do not receive universal, consistent training in cultural competency training and anti-racism.
After conducting focus groups and analyzing surveys from students, families, and other nonprofit organizations, they found that this lack of training and education was contributing to inconsistent and harmful experiences between Boston school-based volunteers and students.
These community organizations reconnected with the Boston Public Schools Office of Equity and Office of Strategy and Innovation to align anti-racist training for volunteers with district goals. They administered surveys to school leaders and teachers to determine the gaps in knowledge related to anti-racist training and teaching. They are continuing to build collective and shared capacity to develop universal anti-racist training for all Boston school-based volunteers.
When school and community leaders listen deeply to the experiences of students and families and work with them to develop change, they are more likely to see solutions that address the root causes of racial inequities in their schools. Doing this work over the last two years, we’ve learned that engaging students and families in decision-making to address racial inequities and increasing a sense of belonging are powerful ways to make positive change for all members of a school community.