Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

Corrie Wallace, District 65’s equity consultant, presented an Equity Report for School District 65, to the School Board on May 22. The report presents findings based on her equity audit of the District, together with eight recommendations that  she said are intended to take the District toward a more equitable learning environment and eliminate the predictability of achievement by race in Evanston.

“There is a persistent and unacceptable opportunity gap for students of color in District 65,” says the report. “The  District’s leadership team attributes the racial predictability of achievement and disciplinary  outcomes to institutional racism, a huge problem that can only start to be solved by acknowledging the history of white supremacy in Evanston/Skokie Schools.

 “This report affirms what scholar Sonia Nieto (1992) asserts, ‘Simply desegregating schools will not make a difference until the power relations within such settings are challenged.’”

The report says, “Throughout U.S. history, discriminatory policies and practices in housing, healthcare and education have systematically disenfranchised Black people and people of color, impacting schools and children.”

During her presentation, Ms. Wallace cited examples of past discrimination in Evanston, including a practice of not allowing black people with teaching certifications to teach in Evanston schools prior to 1940.

Currently Ms. Wallace says, “Although Black and Latinx students have opportunities to attend the same schools as white students, their school experiences may be vastly different from their white peers. The differences in experience are based on factors such as housing segregation, differential effects of school placement practices on attending neighborhood schools, and racial identity development.”

 “As I see this, it’s an important moment for all of us, as a Board and as an administration, to dive into the report as presented and to really look at some of the recommendations,” said Dr. Goren.

While attributing the achievement gap to institutional racism, the report does not analyze whether the gap may be attributable to differences in opportunity available to students due to differences in household income or other factors.

The Equity Audit and Findings

“Equity is really about fairness and justice and getting people what they really deserve to reach their full potential,” said Ms. Wallace. “It’s often confused with equality.”

In the past nine months, Ms. Wallace said she conducted 20 “equity walks” in the District’s schools; she conducted 233 focus groups, in which more than 500 parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators participated; she gained input from approximately 1,000 students in focus groups; and approximately 1,424 people responded to an online survey.

Ms. Wallace said “patterns emerged,” and people who participated in the focus groups and responded to the survey identified:  

● “A need for Racial Literacy throughout District 65 at all levels among students, teachers, support staff, parents and administrators

● “A broad-based desire for more Equity Professional Development, specific interests include social justice in education, institutional racism and power, privilege and inequality

● “A concern regarding the over representation of Black and Latinx students in special education and behavioral consequences such as ODRs and suspensions

● “A desire for increased time for Social Emotional Learning to address student needs

● “A need for more consistency in the amount of multiculturalism in the District’s curricula (e.g., social studies)

● A perception that existing math placement practices are a barrier to equity

● “A general concern regarding the low number of Black teachers, lower retention rates for Black teachers and lack of teachers that reflect student demographics

● “A need for a sense of urgency in attending to and addressing the needs of our lowest performing most marginalized students and families

● “A desire for accountability and clear consistent communication from leadership to focus and prioritize versus juggling multiple initiatives

● “A need to create welcoming spaces and opportunities throughout District 65, specifically at JEH in the district office

● “A concern regarding the effects of busing and lack of a neighborhood option for many Black students

● “A need for the development of respectful, trustworthy relationships

Recommendations

Ms. Wallace made eight recommendations to address the identified needs or concerns. The RoundTable provides some background and historical information to provide some additional context.

First Recommendation: “Increase the level of Racial Literacy, Social Emotional Learning, and Culturally Relevant Teaching throughout District 65: a) Require Equity Training for all Employees starting with BD (Beyond Diversity) including pre/post meetings & SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity);  b) Identify a means for incorporating racial literacy into the curriculum such as aligning  curriculum with K-12 Anti-Bias Framework; and c) Interrupt Disproportionality in Special Education, Discipline and Math.”

The report says, in part, that in order to engage in conversations about race and other social identities, teachers “need tools that they can transfer into the classroom, use with colleagues, and apply when engaging with families.” Teachers also need time and space “to learn, take risks and build capacity to understand systems of oppression and how they impact school climate.” 

Board member Candance Chow asked Ms. Wallace if she is recommending that all employees be required to take both the Beyond Diversity Training, plus the SEED training.

Ms. Wallace said she is recommending that employees take both. She said the Beyond Diversity training is a two-day training session, and that SEED lasts for 10 months. She said they go hand-in-hand. 

Some background: The Board has been focusing on reducing disciplinary suspensions since 2010-11, and has made significant progress in doing so. The District has also attempted to reduce the number of students who are placed in special education by implementing interventions at earlier grade levels. Under federal law, the District is required to prepare an Individual Education Plan for students with a disability. In the last ten years, the Board approved  implementing a culturally responsive curriculum on two different occasions, and in the five-year Strategic Plan, adopted in February 2015, the Board supported enhancing social and emotional learning and culturally responsive curricula. 

Second Recommendation: “Address the Detrimental Impact of Math Placement.”

“The basis for this recommendation comes from District 65 adults who have expressed frustration by having to teach the same material to classes of students that are racially different due to parent advocacy,” said Ms. Wallace. “Parents also expressed frustration in being met with resistance when it comes to having their children of color placed into ‘higher’ math classes.”

 Ms. Chow asked Ms. Wallace if her finding of a “detrimental impact” due to math placement was based on academic success or other factors.

Ms. Wallace said, “There are several levels, from students who say, ‘I’m not smart because I’m not in that math class,’ to teachers who say ‘I’m teaching the same thing, the same content, to classrooms who look very different because we have a set of kids who aren’t where they need to be. We listen to parents’ requests, instead of placing kids the way they need to be. The message that is communicated to our students and our parents is detrimental to all of us because we’re not recognizing the brilliance in all of our kids, and we’re saying certain kids have access to something that not everyone else does.” 

Some background: According to the District’s website if fifth-graders at Chute, Haven, and Nichols demonstrate “high achievement mathematical ability,” they may take an accelerated, compacted Math 6/7 course in sixth grade, which provides them a pathway to take Algebra 1 in seventh grade and Geometry in eighth grade. This sequence enables them to take more advanced courses at Evanston Township High School. Seventh graders in the middle schools, who have not taken Algebra, may enroll in Algebra 1 in eighth grade, if they meet certain criteria. Other students are placed in Algebra 8. 

On June 17, 2013, District 65 School Board members discussed an evaluation of an algebra pilot program that was established at the start of the 2012-13 school year at King Lab and Bessie Rhodes magnet schools. The pilot collapses Algebra 1with Algebra 8. Administrators compared the results of students in the pilot to the results of students who continued to take Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 in the middle schools.

Several Board members raised questions about the validity of the comparison because the average class size for the pilot was 16.4 students, compared to 20.2 for students in Algebra 8 and 27.6 for students in Algebra 1, and for several other reasons. The data also showed that low-performing students who took Algebra 8 fared better than their peers who took Algebra in the pilot:  36% of the students who started out in the lowest quartile and took Algebra 8 moved out of the lowest quartile, but the percentage of students in the bottom quartile in the pilot remained the same. 

The Board asked for further analysis of the data, including a more detailed analysis of how combining Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 would impact lower-achieving students. The analysis was never completed.

 Third Recommendation: “Devise an enrollment management strategy that minimizes the disproportionate impact of busing on Black and Latinx students and increases parent/family access to schools within walking distance of traditionally underrepresented students’ homes.”  

The report says many parents value that their children can walk to school. “This speaks to the need for District 65 to further examine busing practices.

“Several principals and parents expressed concern about the ability for Black, Latinx and newcomer EL students to maintain friendships outside of school and participate in enrichment programs and clubs due to the challenge presented by geographic proximity. D65 teachers expressed frustration about the impact that late bus arrivals have on students’ ability to achieve and parents’ ability to actively engage in the school community when it’s beyond walking distance from their home.”

Some background: In 1967, as part of the District’s desegregation plan, Foster School, which was 99% black, was closed as a neighborhood school and converted into a magnet school to attract white students to the school and thereby desegregate it. As a second part of the desegregation plan 450 black children who had previously attended Foster School were bused to formerly white schools to desegregate those schools. Many black leaders and 92% of the black families whose children were bused supported the plan.

In the late 1970s, District 65 was faced with a declining student enrollment, and the School Board closed seven schools, one of which was Foster School. Many black leaders opposed the closing of Foster School. Since that time, many black students have been bused from the old Foster School area to the north end schools to desegregate those schools and because there was no neighborhood school in the area.

During Dr. Murphy’s tenure as superintendent, the District analyzed if there was a way to minimize busing by redrawing the attendance areas of all the District’s schools, and reassigning students to the school closest to them, taking into account capacity of each school. Administrators concluded they could not minimize busing by redrawing attendance areas.

In 2012, the Board approved a referendum to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward which would have been a 93% minority, 90% low-income school, which parents could opt into. The community did not approve the referendum.

In recognition that Foster School was closed and that many students in the Fifth Ward are bused to the north end schools, the Board has approved policies that give students in the Fifth Ward a priority to attend King Arts Magnet School and Bessie Rhodes Magnet School.

Data in the District’s October 2016 Opening School Report reflects that about 46% of black students are eligible to take the bus, compared to 27% of white students. 

Fourth Recommendation: “Develop and implement a plan that addresses the following goals with regard to TWI [Two Way Immersion]and ACC [African Centered Curriculum]: a) Address racial disproportionality among English dominant TWI students; b) Strengthen and fully integrate ACC and TWI (e.g., creating schools where TWI and ACC are combined into a single instructional approach); c) Dispel the myth that ACC is only for Black students; and d) End isolation of TWI teachers/students; e) Develop and strengthen TWI in 6th-8th grade.”

Ms. Wallace said the basis for this recommendation is the impact of busing black and brown students from the Fifth Ward, the pattern of isolation in the TWI and ACC programs, the District’s practices regarding placement of students in the TWI and ACC programs; the disproportionate placement of homeless students in the ACC program; and research that says TWI, as a dual language model, has the potential to close the achievement gap.

Ms. Chow asked Ms. Wallace to clarify the recommendation to fully integrate TWI and the ACC program.

Ms. Wallace said the TWI program currently has six strands (i.e., K-5 grade levels) in five different schools, and the TWI teachers feel isolated.

Ms. Wallace said the ACC program historically was supposed to be a District-wide program offered at two schools, but it has been located only at Oakton school; and she has heard “it has not been given the support that it needs to really have the outcomes we would like to see.”

She said she was recommending that TWI and the ACC programs be totally integrated into one or a couple of schools, “where all children are learning the tenets and the pedagogy of the ACC curriculum and learning Spanish and English.”

Ms. Wallace added that research shows that African American students in dual-language programs significantly outscore their peers. She said one reason is that some black students speak a nonstandard form of English at their home and taking a dual-language program helps them develop their literacy skills in English.

A recent book, “Language at the Speed of Sight” (2017), makes the point, “Speech is the source of knowledge about language … Children’s entry into reading and how fast they progress depend on their knowledge of speech. Because it is so crucial to becoming a reader, measures of prereaders’ spoken language are strong predictors of later progress.”

Board President Suni Kartha said she thought that ending isolation and dispelling the myth that ACC is only for black students are important goals, but she questioned the need to create a TWI/ACC school or schools. She said the issue might be addressed by implementing the ACC program with fidelity and providing it more support.

Some background: The TWI program was implemented in 2000 and is a dual language program which is designed to have 50% Spanish-dominant students and 50% English-dominant students. After extensive discussion in 2006, the Board decided to maintain the progam as separate strands in each school except Washington (which has two strands), rather than consolidating the TWI program into a Language Academy or Academies. This preserved neighborhood schools and enabled the District to offer the program closer to where Spanish-dominant students lived. Any English-dominant student may apply to be in the program.

The program is currently offered at the K-5 grade levels, but administrators recently recommended it be expanded to sixth through eighth grades. The TWI program satisfies the legal requirement to provide an English language program to Hispanic students who are learning English.

The ACC program was implemented in the 2006-07 school year and was designed to provide culturally sensitive instruction to develop a deeper understanding of the African and African American cultures. Any student may apply to enroll in the program. Since its inception, a limited number of students have enrolled. In 2012, then Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the program had not produced the achievement results hoped for, but some teachers, parents, and students praised the program. There are currently 87 students enrolled in the program: 11 in kindergarten, 16 in first grade, 12 in second grade, 13 in third grade, 13 in fourth grade, and 22 in fifth grade.

The Board has adopted criteria to use in selecting students for the ACC program and English-dominant students for the TWI program, including the use of a preference for students who have a sibling in the program or who reside in the attendance area of the school, and the use of a lottery if necessary.

Fifth Recommendation: “Develop a plan to address racial representation of teachers and to increase recruitment, hiring and retention of individuals that have an equity mindset, a) Create district-wide employee Affinity Groups.”

“This recommendation is rooted in the need for students to see reflections of themselves in the adults who are responsible for their education,” said Ms. Wallace. The report reflects that the percent of black teachers has declined from about 101, or 17%, in 2012, to 81, or 13%, in 2016.

 Ms. Chow asked why African American teachers were leaving the District, if they were retiring or leaving early in their careers.

Ms. Wallace said, “I can’t address very specifically why this shift is happening.”

Some Background: One goal in the District’s Strategic Plan is to attract “the best talent” that “reflects the demographic diversity of our student body.” The plan also contains specific strategies to achieve this goal.

Last year, the District says 39% of the new teachers hired were persons of color, compared to 20% in the previous year. Five of the seven principals hired in the last two years are African American.

Sixth Recommendation: “Create inclusive ‘welcoming’ spaces and opportunities throughout District 65: a) Create a Parent Welcome Center; b) Pilot parent/family SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) & develop district-wide parent Affinity Groups: and  c) Create a Parent Mentor Program; d) Employ Bilingual Family Liaisons, ideally  who have Interpreter Training.”

“This recommendation aims to build upon the work done by school climate teams to develop relationships and cultivate the cultural capital of District 65’s diverse students and their families,” says Ms. Wallace in her report. She says there is “a disconnect between the District and families from the moment they enter JEH,” which can be addressed by implementing the recommendation.

Some Background: The District’s strategic plan says, “District 65 is committed to creating a variety of ways to engage and welcome families into our schools.” One way the District has been attempting to do this is through its newly formed school climate teams.

 Seventh Recommendation: “Institutionalize the district’s commitment to equity and empowerment through dedicated staffing and organizational structures (e.g., an equity and empowerment office) to maintain a focus on equity and the implementation of the equity plan.”  

Eighth Recommendation: “Develop an implementation plan by October 31, 2017.”

Early Childhood Development

The Equity Report does not contain a recommendation for early childhood development.

Board member Anya Tanyavutti asked about the alignment of the K-8 system and pre-K opportunities. She said, “I implore us to think about how we can add alignment of our early childhood programs to the recommendations moving forward.”

Ms. Wallace said, “The work that we’re doing has to include early childhood. Obviously. I think sometimes the perception is that it is forgotten.”

Board member Sergio Hernandez  noted that many people in the community were committed to working with the District on the equity work and the Evanston Cradle to Career work. “There seems to be this movement that is going to try to address some of these racial issues that we had in this community for years, for decades,” he said. “I hope, as a Board, we can encourage and continue the momentum, and as a Board, make a space for our educators and parents in this School District to express themselves, to feel pride in the District themselves and in their cultures and in the richness they bring to the education setting.

“Going back to the early childhood piece,” Mr. Hernandez continued, “I think it’s really critical in regards to this journey when a child comes into the District and a family engages with our District, there needs to be this array of services. As a teacher, what I always told my parents, ‘I may be a teacher, but you’re your child’s first teacher and you need to help me. I can’t do this on my own. This is a partnership.’  As a District, this is what we need to tell all parents. ‘Look, we are partners in this journey to equity. I look forward to this incredible work.’”

Going Forward

Board member Joseph Hailpern asked, “How do you define metrics of success, not just task accomplished?”

Dr. Goren said the question was “spot on.” He said over the next month or two, “We will be planning our responsive report and how we will recommend how we will move forward with the recommendations and other efforts that we have to carry out the work that we have started on training, hiring, on understanding our teaching and learning practices, and on really shifting into what is a very focused mindset on equity.”

He added, “We want to create action plans that are capable of tremendous success so we can really move forward as swiftly as possible.”

At the urging of several District 65 School Board members, the Board decided in August 2011 to measure student achievement using benchmarks that were aligned with being on track to college and career readiness. The Board also set a goal to increase the percentage of students, by race and income status, who met the college readiness benchmarks.  School District 65 was the first school district in the State to do so.

Previously, the District, like all other school districts in the State, used the benchmarks to “meet standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test to measure whether students were proficient in reading and math. The benchmarks to “meet standards,” however, were set at about the 20th national percentile, a point that was about two full grades below grade-level work , and three full grades below being on track to college readiness.  The meet standard benchmarks gave a very misleading picture of achievement, and they set very low expectations for students and school districts. 

The data showed that the achievement gap was much larger using benchmarks linked to being on track to college readiness, rather than the “meet standards” benchmark for the ISATs. Aligning with college and career readiness benchmarks is important, though, because it set much higher expectations for all students, expectations aligned with a child’s chances to succeed in life. It affirmed a belief that all children can and should achieve at high levels.

Since at least the 1960s, the District has implemented many initiatives in an effort to raise the achievement of black students and lower the achievement gap. Each of the District’s last three five-year strategic plans, developed with extensive community input, contain many strategies to do that. In 2006, the District convened an African American Student Achievement Committee which proposed many recommendations to improve achievement, which were implemented.

Demographics

According to the District’s Opening School Report, the District’s student body is 43% white, 20% black, 20% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 9% multi-racial.Approximately 38% of the students qualify for free- or reduced-fee lunch (less than 180% of the federal poverty level), and of those 85% qualify for free lunch (less than 130% of the federal poverty level). The latest data available shows that approximately 77% of black students qualify for free- or reduced-fee lunch, compared to 7% of white students.An estimated 66% of black students qualify for free lunch.