Increasing Equity In Our Student Information Systems

Thankfully, many school districts are focusing on equity for students, and while we must continue to advocate for equity at all levels, we all tend to focus the majority of our efforts on the systems within our control. It just so happens that many student information systems can add customized fields and reports, which will afford us the opportunity to accurately report race and gender, without disenfranchising our students.

This very topic arose at our monthly principal meeting this morning, and here’s the crux of the issue: We need to meet our state reporting obligations such as MARSS, by using state-required data elements, yet we need to acknowledge our students’ identities. We are talking about more than just data fields in a database; we’re talking about the livelihood of our students.

Imagine that you are a student who is bi-racial and identifies as a female, yet when you log into your district’s student information system and look at your student profile, you’re listed as “Black” for your race and a “Male” for your gender. Would you feel better if I just explained to you why the system works the way it does? I don’t think so.

We need to customize our student information systems, whenever possible, to reframe how we track data, so we are not continuing to marginalize students and perpetuate systemic inequities. When we continue to use mandatory student information systems that do not possess customization capabilities, we need to advocate for these changes with the vendors on behalf of the students we serve.

The bottom line is that modifying these systems that have been in place for so long will result in extra work for everyone involved, yet it is the right work to do so let’s hunker down and do it.

The future of education equity in the US: How do we move forward?

On January 19th of this school year, I start my first meeting with the Minnesota Aspiring Superintendent Academy cohort. Before our first meeting next week, we were asked to read the following article titled “Shaping the Future of American Public Education: What’s Next for Changemakers?” I think this article really gets at the root cause of our primary issues with the public education system today. Don’t get me wrong though; we have a lot of amazing things happening in pockets throughout public education in the United States.

The big question I’m currently grappling with from this whitepaper is, have we reached a point in the US (or even just Minnesota) where we’re ready to collaborate around the big idea of the purpose of education, and especially equity? Are we all ready to look at our own implicit biases and beliefs about race, gender, and disabilities? Our beliefs and values are the foundation of change.

In Minnesota, local control and funding methodologies force districts to prioritize based on local needs and perception. I often wonder how local control ultimately serves the greater good and contributes to educational equity and society in general, and I’m concerned that it does more harm than good when examined through an equity lense. Several examples of this are attendance boundaries, graduation requirements, and district calendars.

School districts in Minnesota have varying graduation requirements, attendance boundaries that push the affluent and low-income students apart, and district calendars that primarily center around white culture. We can say the problem is the system, but at the end of the day every system comes down to people, their beliefs, and values. On top of this, there is also a divide among people about the purpose of education.

If we all can’t agree on the purpose of education on a broader scale, in addition to defining what success looks like for EACH of our students, how can our system ever collaborate and bring a level of coherence to our practice that benefits EACH of our students? The lack of a common purpose leads me to another major concern I have with the profession of teaching in the US. Medical doctors go to school for many years, go through a significant residency program, and they are still considered to be practicing medicine.

When I think about how much more time educators spend with students (our future), it floors me to think that there aren’t similar standards applied to the teaching profession in the US. After all, just like doctors, we have our students lives in our hands! I want to clarify that I am not saying our teachers are not qualified to do their jobs; I’m just concerned that there doesn’t appear to be an equal playing field when it comes to the respect for the profession.

It is also critical that we recruit and retain teachers and leaders of the same races, cultures, and backgrounds as our students. Additionally, all teachers need a laser focus on culturally responsive teaching that is grounded in evidence-based practices that produce measurable outcomes for students of all colors, cultures, genders, and disabilities.

As I prepare to embark upon conversations with other education change leaders to further my learning, I believe the most critical and immediate questions are:

  1. Do we believe every student can learn? And if so, how do our actions support this belief?
  2. How are we contributing to systemic inequities in our system?
  3. What is the purpose of education in the US?
  4. How will we move forward in Minnesota to address equity in education?

I look forward to feedback from my esteemed colleagues in my district, state, country, and around the globe to help me think more deeply about this topic. I thank you all in advance for any contributions you can share.