Existing Structures and Practices Perpetuate Inequities

Current structures and practices often serve to benefit more privileged families and/or protect the district and its status quo, thus perpetuating inequitable conditions.1

  • Educators report that, “Many CPS policies, practices, systems, and requirements serve to protect the district and its status quo rather than supporting equity for our students.”2

  • Administrators describe the current CPS school assignment system as “one of the most inequitable processes,” and report that it has ramifications for CPS students, families and educators throughout individual students’ CPS experiences, throughout each school year -- and inequitably across different schools. Principals described our current system as “so complicated,” with “layers and layers”3 that can be hard for families to understand. They also report that the system itself has “major issues of racial [inequity] embedded.” 4

  • Educators and administrators emphasize that School Committee systems, policies, and practices often have inequitable impacts. Local electoral and political processes -- as well as School Committee processes, practices, and mandates -- often provide differential access and influence to people with power and privilege, thus perpetuating inequity.5

  • As one community member put it, “I think public processes are inherently, and the research shows, they’re inherently designed to empower people with more money... Public processes are racist, right?”6

Opportunity gaps originate both outside of and within schools. And for many students, CPS schools serve to widen and deepen those gaps over time rather than narrowing them.

  • Educators and administrators have concerns about academic support/intervention programming. For example, they report “concerns about disproportionate representation of students of color, students of lower socioeconomic class, and students with a first language other than English.” Furthermore, they report that, “[yearlong intervention often] prevents [students] from re-integrating into classes once a skill is mastered. This model needs to be reassessed.”7  Inconsistencies in how different schools provide academic intervention services also “have differential impacts on other aspects of students’ school days, such as their recess and specialist time.”8

  • “Linguistic, cultural and socio-economic” mismatches between educators and students and families “result in opportunity gaps to build relationship with teachers and schools.”9  This is particularly true because “schools are structured around white, middle class norms10 that feel more familiar for some than for others.”

  • Current systems of leveling are, “not [as] flexible as [they are] imagined to be” and require “cultural and social capital to navigate.”11  Students described some educators’ approach to leveling as: “‘If they want to stay in CP (College Prep/non-Honors), let them stay in CP.’ Or, ‘If they want to drop down from honors to CP, we’re not going to really try to work with them and try to get them to work harder. We're just going to let them go ahead and drop down.’”12

  • Students reported that “there were some populations of students who were encouraged to push themselves academically and for whom the school was proactive in college guidance or counseling. And, there were other populations of students who had to seek out help, find support, and be advocates for themselves. While these tended to be along academic leveling (e.g., AP, Honors, CP), these levels also represent distinct racialized groupings with more white students in AP and Honors courses and more students of color in College Prep courses.”13

Educators face expectations and time demands that are intense, disconnected, and sometimes contradictory. These impede educators’ capacity to invest in sustained, impactful equity work -- and sometimes present concrete barriers to equity.

  • “Time and structure were... common themes… [Educators] were unsure how they could commit a responsible amount of time to shape more equitable classrooms and school culture when they have existing pressures to meet the demands of other academic areas.14

  • Teacher time was cited frequently as a central barrier to communication. Communicating with non-native English speaking families requires taking the time to get documents or meetings translated.15

  • Principals acknowledged that, staff feels enormous pressure to get through curriculum, including pressure from curriculum heads to implement curricula that are not culturally responsive. This takes away from educators ability to spend time building relationships.16

  • Principals reported that rather than trying to “do it all… we have to figure out how to integrate equity into [other] work in a way that feels doable. Principals noted that it is the administrators’ job to make these connections all the time.”17

  • “One... [barrier] to implementing culturally relevant curriculum is the competition of other interests that occur at the school level.”18

  • “It is hard to step up and say, ‘I see a problem, I want to change it / fix it.’ [Equity] needs to be THE thing instead of an ‘extra’ thing on our plates."19

There is a lack of accountability for educators and administrators whose decisions negatively impact equity.

  • Principals reported that they “cannot be the only ones accountable for equity. Central office and [department] coordinators must be accountable as well.”20

  • Principals discussed “the role of the Cambridge Education Association (union) in perpetuating inequities… [They] expressed frustration at how difficult it is to evaluate out someone who consistently demonstrates that they stay rooted in practices that privilege White middle class values… The sentiment was voiced that even if students and teachers consistently say that they are being negatively impacted by a particular educator, that educator is still not held accountable on issues of race and equity.21

  • “Don’t excuse the behavior of racist teachers with ‘they have tenure.’ Tenure should not be a shield against YEARS of complaints and underperforming of [people of color] in a teacher’s classroom.”22

  • Educators report that “expectations around equity [have] not been explicit. It must be clear where the expectations are held and who is accountable for holding individuals up to the task of doing equity-based work. If this is a district expectation, then there need to be accountability measures at every level of the district… It was unclear to professionals if individuals are held accountable for not doing this work. And, if there are not accountability measures – or if there are measures but people are not being held accountable to it – then this serves as a distraction to this work.”23

1 For additional evidence, see ““Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias” and “Power in Decision-Making is Inequitably Distributed" barriers
2 CPAR Preliminary Themes
3 Principals’ Input and Reflections
4 June 2019 Feedback on First-Draft Barriers to Equity
5 June 2019 Feedback on First-Draft Barriers to Equity
6 Focus Group Report
7 Educator quote, CPAR Study 15
8 CPAR Preliminary Themes & Recommendations
9 Student-Educator Relationships Sense Making Team
10 For additional evidence, see “Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias”
11 Academic Learning Sense Making Team
12 Youth Sense Making Team Artifact
13 Focus Group Report
14 Focus Group Report
15 CPAR Study 1
16 Principals’ Input and Reflections
17 Principals’ Input and Reflections
18 Focus Group Report
19 Quote from an educator of color, CPAR Study 8
20 Principals’ Input and Reflections
21 Principals’ Input and Reflections
22 Youth quote, Youth Sense-Making Team
23 Focus Group Report

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