Inequitable School and Classroom Experiences

Many students do not feel engaged by classroom teaching and learning. This has disproportionate negative impacts on students of color.

  • While “course content is one important way of engaging learners... [engagement is also] a product of relationships, perceptions of student ability, and positive [classroom] interactions.”1

  • CRLS students reported that group work, interactive activities, and relevant content were particularly helpful to increase engagement. The most disengaging activities were lectures and/or “too much talking” from teachers.2

  • Students describe frustration that despite their desire to learn, they sometimes experience “teachers who ‘did not challenge them’ or who ‘did not seem to even like teaching anymore.’”3

  • “Students of color, on average, have Bs and Cs when they are included in Honors and AP classes, [but] nothing really changes in terms of pedagogy/instructional strategies -- they are expected to simply ‘fit in’ and thus often don’t feel like they really ‘belong.’”4

  • Educators and students at CRLS described “a school culture... [of] ‘hanging out in the hallways. They noted that, ‘It’s easy to see that it’s Black and Brown students in the hallways during classes. And when you ask them why they are there, they say… “class was boring” or they aren’t engaged or “the teacher won’t even notice I’m gone anyway”’.”5

  • “Inequity looks like a system that punishes different kids differently for the same issue: disengagement.”6

Many students -- especially students of color -- are not yet experiencing positive school cultures, positive relationships, and feelings of connectedness at school. When these essentials are lacking, disciplinary and academic challenges often arise.7

Racism and bias (both interpersonal and internalized) exist and persist throughout CPS.8

Students of color (and other students from marginalized groups) frequently experience low academic expectations, negative behavioral expectations, and deficit-based thinking from educators.

  • Educators report that some students of color “do not feel treated the same as their white counterparts… It sends a message that their bad behavior will be seen, but that otherwise they may not be seen. It [sends] a messages that their grades are not as important and that pushing for excellence is only for white kids.”9

  • “Students of color are disproportionately impacted by disciplinary practices in the district.”10

  • “My child got sent to the office. And… when he got sent out of the classroom, it was just, ‘Get out.’ And this goes on, and on, and on [over the years]… My son is now in high school, and… he is one of those children who hangs out in the hallway. And I think what's happened to him? Over the years, he internalized his own self-hate. He used to love to read. He loved learning, he loved those things. I feel bad, but as his parents, we began to say things to him like, ‘You’re getting in trouble all the time… [From] now on, you do everything you’re supposed to do. I don’t send you there to make friends, I send you there to learn.’ But, that’s wrong, that’s wrong. We shouldn’t have only blamed him. He should also go to school and feel loved and seen. He should be seen as an active kid who is just a kid, instead of someone to just send away.”11

  • American-Born Black families and alumni expressed concerns about supports toward post-secondary success. As one caregiver put it, “(My sons), they were falsely propped up but were not academically prepared.” Or, in the word of an alumnus: “They loved me in school, but no one helped me figure out my next move [beyond high school].”12

  • Immigrant families report that “their cultural experiences... [are] often [seen] as a deficit [by educators]. But participants encouraged others to see… their approaches [as] an asset: ‘We may not necessarily... have the level of education or whatever have you, but I feel… there can be more of that in [CPS], using more of that strength-based approach. And really looking into, what are immigrant families already doing, as opposed to what are they not doing. Because there are a lot of things we are doing with our children that aren’t being valued or that’s not being recognized.’”13

  • Caregivers express concern that students from marginalized groups are “often recommended for special education or testing… educators quickly assumed that there was a learning delay or disability instead of taking into account cultural backgrounds and approaches to learning.”14

Students and families of color do not see their cultures reflected positively in the curriculum.

  • “Some students don’t see themselves reflected well in classrooms… walls… [or] curriculum.”15

  • “Culturally responsive and reflective curriculum was a common theme across stakeholder groups. Parents and caregivers of children of color, particularly Black children, noted that there was very little in the curriculum that affirmed the identities of their families as Black. [Parents] noted… ‘When, in their Cambridge educational experience, are they going to learn about the richness of our history, our leadership, and our contributions to society?’”16

Students, families, and educators have powerful visions for more equitable, engaging schools and classrooms. This is particularly true among educators of color.17

  • K-5 students “want school to be interesting, which they often describe as learning new things or engaging in authentic and hands on tasks. However, students can also feel anxious or disengaged when they worry that… tasks will be too challenging or that they will not be able to complete them. Thus, high expectations must be paired with the supports and scaffolds that each student requires to maintain a sense of belonging.”18

  • CRLS students “resisted any beliefs that they just want to get by in high school. Many [said they] were seeking challenge and support in their classroom settings and wanted opportunities to develop their critical thinking and problem solving in ways that were appropriate.” As one put it, “We really appreciate teachers who don’t tell you the answer, but instead they help you problem solve and give you the tools to make it happen.”19

  • Classrooms can engage all types of learners when students “don't feel… they are being talked down to, but rather are being brought together to intellectually share ideas.”20

1 Focus Group Report
2 YPAR Findings
3 Focus Group Report
4 Academic Learning SMT Narrative
5 Focus Group Report
6 CPAR Study 5
7 For evidence, see “Lack of Focus on Relationships” barrier
8 For evidence, see the “Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias” barrier
9 Educator quote, CPAR Study 11
10 Student Discipline Sense-Making Team Fishbone
11 Caregiver of color quote, Focus Group Report
12 CPAR Study 6
13 Focus Group Report
14 Focus Group Report
15 Academic Learner Sense-Making Team Fishbones
16 Focus Group Report
17 For additional evidence, see “Equity Work has Lacked Commitment, Coherence, and Accountability” barrier
18 CPAR Study 10
19 Focus Group Report
20 CRLS student quote, CPAR Studies 3 & 7

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