Home Leading Now That the Court Has Ruled on Affirmative Action, What Must School Leaders Know? (Opinion)

Now That the Court Has Ruled on Affirmative Action, What Must School Leaders Know? (Opinion)

by Staff

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions has raised questions about the implications for K-12 schools. The ruling reversed 45 years of legal precedent upholding the consideration of race as one of many factors in determining a college applicant’s eligibility.

As a teacher educator who works with dozens of principals and superintendents advancing racial equity in their schools, I anticipate the adverse fallout these leaders will face as some of their community members refer to the court’s ruling as justification for eliminating race-conscious diversity programs and initiatives. Nonetheless, the decision to end affirmative action in college admissions is not a legal mandate to shut down efforts that address long-standing racial inequities in K-12 schools. School leaders may continue to use race-conscious policies and promote racial diversity in elementary and secondary schools, as previously established by the court’s 2007 Parents Involved decision.

As many educators around the nation aim to work within the legal parameters of the court’s decision, here are five things K-12 school leaders can do now as they consider ways to sustain racial-equity initiatives in the coming months.

1. Keep talking about racial equity. The Supreme Court did not deem discussing race and racism in schools unconstitutional. This summer, rather than quietly allowing news of the race-conscious admissions decision to fade out with the end of the school year, open up channels and opportunities to address what the decision means for your school community. Discuss what it will take to sustain efforts to increase equitable learning conditions for students of color in the upcoming year. Make public statements consistent with your commitment to racial equity and say how you will maintain this commitment. Doing so will strengthen your credibility and garner support from staff members who might be uncertain or fearful about possible implications of the court’s decision. Don’t stop talking about racism now.

2. Keep recruiting and retaining teachers of color. Explicit efforts to recruit and retain teachers and school leaders of color have not been prohibited by the court. Research demonstrates the benefits of having teachers of color for students of all racial backgrounds with the evidence being strongest for the positive effects of same-race teachers on Black and Latinx students. Yet, fewer graduates of color from our nation’s most competitive institutions of higher education will be available to teach in public schools after the court’s decision.

Before this summer’s ruling, nine states including California banned race-conscious college-admission practices, causing sudden declines in racial diversity on their college campuses. All nine of those states also have significant teacher shortages, and only California, which has invested $1.2 billion since 2016 on programs to address the problem, has seen shortage reductions.

The decision to end affirmative action in college admissions is not a legal mandate to shut down efforts that address long-standing racial inequities in K-12 schools.

Now that the ban has taken effect, school districts must continue to remove barriers to retaining teachers of color, increase race-conscious mentorship opportunities, and meaningfully include the voices of teachers and students of color in recruitment and retention decisions. Don’t stop recruiting and retaining educators of color now.

3. Keep asking questions about diversity. Job-application and -interview questions that prompt applicants to reflect on their attitudes, perceptions, or experiences serving racially diverse students and families have not been blocked by the court’s decision. Asking prospective teachers why race matters in the classroom can spark candid conversations about where teachers see themselves in relation to their students’ experiences and opportunities for success. Administrators observing instruction who ask teachers to consider the race of students called on most, thriving more, or disciplined at higher rates are not contravening the court’s decision. Don’t stop asking these questions now.

4. Keep investing in DEI professional development. Professional development experiences designed to increase recognition of racial bias have not been eliminated by the court’s decision. Decades of scholarship has well documented the evidence of implicit bias in teachers’ instructional habits and school leaders’ disciplinary decisions. Research on implicit bias also shows that teachers of color are more likely to receive lower evaluation ratings from supervisors than their white peers. Trainings in diversity and equity that provide concrete tools for disrupting the unconscious associations playing out in classroom and workplace interactions can reduce barriers to learning opportunities for students of color and increase retention of teachers of color. Don’t cut those programs now.

5. Keep diversifying the curriculum. Efforts to diversify K-12 curriculum with the goal of increasing its cultural relevance to students of color have not been banned by the court. All students benefit when educators ensure accurate, complete, and deliberate inclusion of diverse identities, voices, and histories in the curriculum. Educators afforded opportunities to reflect on how race intersects with their curriculum choices are more likely to become more aware awareness of implicit biases that affect those decisions. While there is no universal standard for how much representation is appropriate, educators can use culturally responsive curriculum scorecards and related frameworks to evaluate their unit and lesson plans. Teachers must continue to be supported in their efforts to increase the cultural responsiveness of curriculum content. Don’t stop diversifying the curriculum now.

In her dissenting opinion on June 29, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “The court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.” The court’s ruling is a call to action for all educators committed to disrupting historically entrenched racial inequities in schools. Although this decision will prompt some to overreach in their demands to shut down race-conscious equity initiatives, school leaders must continue pursuing all lawful pathways to ensuring educators, students, and families of color have equal opportunities to learn, work, and thrive.

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