Barriers to Equity in Cambridge Public Schools

The Building Equity Bridges project has identifies persistent and at times painful problems within our schools. However, participants also shared “that CPS was, overall, a good district in which to learn. There is a deep commitment to improvement in the district and a clear understanding that addressing issues of race and racism are essential to moving this work forward.

“A common theme echoed in the focus groups and interviews was ‘We are Cambridge. We are supposed to be able to do this.

‘I want to see us be honest with ourselves. I want us to be honest that, yes, Cambridge is a great place to work, to live, and to go to school; but it does not always feel that way for everyone.’”

Throughout Building Equity Bridges, community members have shared their experiences “living, learning, leading, and working in Cambridge. While quantitative data is important in informing our understanding of education and inequity, it is the voices, narratives, and stories of individuals and groups that help us to contextualize what these issues are, how they are experienced, and how we might begin to address them. Though we work to resist the practice of making decisions rooted in a single-story, it is important to commit to the practice of listening to, and seeking out, those stories of our neighbors, students, teachers and staff, community members, leaders, and all those whose lives are impacted by education in Cambridge.” In that spirit, we offer these Barriers to Equity as an urgent opportunity for community reflection and action. While we do not claim that these Barriers to Equity are fully comprehensive or “definitive,” they represent the sense-making, analysis and synthesis of the evidence and lived experiences of the diverse range of CPS stakeholders involved in the Building Equity Bridges project.

InequitiesInequitable School and Classroom Experiences
Biases and racism are alive in our CPS schools and classrooms which impacts engagement and learning, most harmfully for our students of color. CPS stakeholders, especially those of color, have valuable insights and ideas for improvements.

RelationshipsLack of Focus on Relationships
Many of our CPS students -- especially those of color -- are not experiencing or benefiting from positive student-teacher relationships, positive school cultures that reflect their diversity, and feelings of connectedness at school. Existing structures, practices and attitudes impede relationship building, which can lead to disciplinary and academic challenges.

Youth Not CenteredYouth are Not Centered
Our youth have valuable input on ways to improve their experiences and learning in school, but feel they have limited pathways to provide feedback and when they do they feel unheard and see little evidence of change. Youth know they are more engaged, ready, and willing to learn when their mental health needs are met, they feel valued in school, they see themselves represented in the curriculum and when they have trusting relationships with individual educators.

People Not CenteredEducators of Color are Not Being Valued, Centered, and Supported
CPS still has far too few educators of color across our schools. Educators and administrators of color often face intense workplace challenges and receive insufficient support, especially since they bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for addressing systemic racial equity issues.

WhitenessWhiteness, Privilege, and Bias
Many structures, practices and expectations across CPS are rooted in white, middle class norms. Educators and administrators have a range of proficiency and capacity to effectively respond to race-related issues or instances of racism.

Lack of PowerPower in Decision-Making is Inequitably Distributed
Power, influence and access are inequitably distributed across CPS based on race, privilege and social capital. People of color often feel unheard and overlooked, even when they proactively seek to advocate to decision makers. It is rare for power to be shared with the students, families, and educators who are most impacted by decisions.

InequalitiesExisting Structures and Practices Perpetuate Inequities
Across CPS there are structures and practices that do not support equity. Instead they often serve to protect the district and respond to more privileged families. For many students, CPS schools serve to widen and deepen opportunity gaps over time, rather than narrowing them. Our educators face expectations and time demands that impede their capacity to invest in sustained, impactful equity work.

Lack of CoheranceLack of Coherence has Disproportionate and Inequitable Impacts
The lack of coherence and consistency for how our students, families and educators experience many aspects of CPS leads to inequitable impacts -- most disproportionately for our people of color.

AccountabilityEquity Work has Lacked Commitment, Coherence, and Accountability
Efforts to lead and support equity work across CPS are often disconnected and lack consistency and accountability. Those who strive to battle inequities face many other competing priorities and there is a lack of consequences for those who make decisions and act in ways that cause harm and perpetuate inequities.

*Thumbnail images are posters creates by participants in the BEB Synthesis Retreat.

Paraphrased from the Building Equity Bridges Qualitative Focus Group Report, by Liza A. Talusan, Ph.D., May 2019

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