In April, I attended AERA just after a day spent with SEERNet in the role of advisor. The juxtaposition of the SEERNet meeting with Digital Learning Platforms (DLPs) and the more general sessions I attended at AERA got me thinking more deeply about equity. Equity is also a topic I am strongly interested in due to my role in San Francisco Unified School District as the Manager of Research & Evaluation.
At AERA, the theme of equity emerged across a range of descriptive and explanatory studies. Some characterized inequities along different dimensions, others interrogated its sources, and others explored mechanisms to address inequities. Bill Schmidt’s invited award lecture detailed how race and socioeconomic status exert distinct influences and interactions on multiple different system‐level and classroom‐level factors on students’ opportunities to learn and their achievement in math. These factors included district per‐pupil funding, school academic culture, school and classroom discipline, tracking, teacher shortages, and teacher effectiveness. Digital learning platforms need to include data on these factors for analysis, in order to make inequities in opportunity more visible and to avoid misattributing performance differences to individual characteristics.
Several presenters offered a deeper examination of the causes underlying the intersections between race, language, and disability, analyzing structural as well as cultural‐historical factors. Alfredo Artiles presented a theoretical critique of the stratification processes (“DefectCraft”) by which marginalized groups are scapegoated as having defects and deficiencies, while the structural, spatial, and cultural‐ historical factors giving rise to these disparities remain unacknowledged. These may include “unjust access to opportunities, discriminatory infrastructures, historical wealth disparities, racial segregation, and stratified access to health care and food delivery systems” (Darity, 2011; Metzl & Hansen, 2014), as well as social mechanisms such as “school responses to remedy policy mandates” (as cited in Artiles’ abstract). Carol Lee’s invited lecture also interrogated social constructions of race and resiliency, noting the varied cultural‐historical influences on children’s development and the natural individual variation which occurs regardless of racial and socioeconomic status. These presentations caution researchers against ascribing too much explanatory power to demographic identity markers, and to look instead for other external factors (structural, spatial, cultural‐historical influences) as well as other internal factors (individual differences). While DLPs may enable discovering certain latent individual differences more readily, they should also consider structural and other factors which may underlie opportunity gaps not immediately evident within their platforms.
Other sessions highlighted mechanisms for reproducing or disrupting inequity, such as through “opportunity hoarding” (Tilly 1998), “interest convergence” (Bell 1980), or community‐driven design. As illustrated in one symposium, advantaged parents may be perceived as hoarding scarce educational resources at the expense of marginalized students when they use government‐funded vouchers to send their children to private schools (Makris, 2023), or when they advocate strenuously for special education protections for their children (Fish, 2023). However, advantaged parents may also build powerful coalitions supporting reforms to disrupt inequitable policies, thereby desegregating schools (Kafka & Wilson, 2023) or redistributing PTA funds (Mackevicius, 2023), if they recognize the inequities in the existing system and perceive change as aligning with their own interests. Collective sensemaking to visualize inequities and build critical consciousness among advantaged parents may constitute an effective mechanism to disrupt inequitable policies (Mackevicius, 2023).
Two other sessions in the symposium chaired by Alfredo Artiles and Aydin Bal illuminated mechanisms for community‐driven systemic change to address policies and practices giving rise to racial disproportionalities in discipline, academics, and behavior. These approaches center collaboration, inclusive decision‐making, systemic design which balances both problem‐ identification and problem‐solving processes, and culturally sustaining pedagogy (as opposed to race‐neutral solutions). These examples illustrate the importance of considering the sociopolitical dynamics among the families and communities involved in and affected by school practices, since those may function to exacerbate or alleviate inequities in education systems. If the instructional decisions embedded within DLPs are not sufficiently transparent to different groups of educators and families,they risk invisibly perpetuating biases which may be difficult to discover and repair.
Reflecting back on the SEERNet meeting, the assembled teams are thinking hard about the tensions between protecting privacy and conducting equity-relevant research, which is made more challenging because in SEERNet two different parties, DLPs and Researchers, have to define how they collect and share data coming from students in schools and other educational settings. This, of course, must be done with utmost care, protections and ethics. Together with other members of the network, I look forward to following not only the innovations of this promising work, but also considering how we might ensure meaningful data measurement and reflection.
Kafka, J., Wilson, A. (2023). Interest Convergence and Market-Based School Reform: The Promise and Limits of Using Controlled Choice to Desegregate Schools. Urban Review. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-023-00659-4
Makris, M. V. (2023). Opportunity Hoarding or Not Leaving Money on the Table? Voucher Policy and Parent Choice. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.
Fish, R. E. (2023). Inequality in Family Advocacy for Disability Labels and Services. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.
Mackevicius, C. (2023). Combating Stealth Inequities in Public Schools: Redistributing Fundraising Parent-Teacher Association Resources Within a District. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.