Power in Decision-Making is Inequitably Distributed

At the district, school, and classroom levels, power is inequitably distributed based on race, privilege, and social capital. This includes inequities in whose voices are heard, valued, and acted upon.1

  • “Families with money, time and opportunities have stronger voice and influence in the school’s decisions.” And the “amplification of affluent white families in decision-making... impacts the educational attainment of students of color.”2

  • Principals describe “different expectations of White and Black administrators and how administrators of color often experience being undermined by white staff and families… Power was also discussed in terms of whose needs are centered.” Many decisions are made based on the priorities and perspectives of adults with power rather than on “the needs of youth.”3

  • “This year, there is one white, privileged, English-speaking, powerful parent who feels entitled to boss teachers around. In the ten years I’ve been in the district, there are 1-2 similar parents [for] each cohort [of students] who suck up 90% of our emotional energy.”4

  • Principals “shared how often decision making is made out of a fear of white flight. They articulated a real fear of ‘blow back.’ For example, some principals shared stories of families explicitly saying ‘I’d like to meet with you to talk about how we’re meeting the needs of high achieving students. We believe in public schools and we made a choice to stay here, but if you’re only going to focus on low achieving students I might have to go to private school.’”5

The educational desires, priorities, and perspectives of people of color are systematically overlooked and undervalued.

  • “I would love to have the district center voices of color and voices of lower income families (and) voices of immigrants… at the center. Like start conversations there, start with that, people who traditionally are marginalized, start with women and people of color and your transgender families. Start with those voices and then have these public processes that build out… [Because] public processes are racist, right? They’re a way to amplify and say, ‘Well we listen to people, the doors are open to everyone.’”6

  • In the words of one educator of color: "If I thought there was an inkling of a chance that CPS would consider [my] recommendations, I would [be willing to help work toward them].”7

People with power often use it in a “top down” way. It’s rare for power to be equitably shared with the students, families, and educators who are most impacted by decisions -- especially people of color.

  • Educators report that individuals with power in Cambridge are “often willing to talk about equity, but unwilling to act equitably by redistributing resources, relinquishing privilege or control, or authentically sharing power with others.”8

  • “Listen to the classroom teachers and integrate them more directly in the decisions being made; open scheduling and opportunities to talk about these opportunities to in-school times and not relegating them to purely after school time meetings and opportunities.”9

  • “A professional stated that they wish there were processes in place that would push back on decisions from an equity-lens. [The] professional stated, ‘Though I do get to make the majority of the decisions, I would really benefit from having many more stakeholders weigh in on decisions. I’d also benefit from having someone, in addition to myself, really help me think through decisions that I make from an equity-based lens. I think that would lead to greater transparency, but it would also hold me accountable for those decisions. And, hopefully, that type of feedback might result in changes in policies about how decisions are made, how resources are allocated, and how decision makers are held accountable.’”10

Input, feedback, and decision-making processes are not clear, accessible, or participatory enough. Even when processes are “open to the public,” people with privilege have significantly greater access and influence.

  • Students “need a way that we can talk directly to the superintendent, and when we can, we need to not have limitations on what we can talk about or how we can talk about things.”11
  • “Families whose schooling was completed in another country, or who had negative experiences in their own schooling, might be less familiar with the mechanisms of power within the system, or even just less comfortable in the building. Furthermore, teachers wondered whether families might be unsure of what they could ask or advocate for. On the flip side, other families seem highly expert at navigating and ‘working’ the system to gain advantages for their children.”12

  • “We do have active parents. I know that I need to be active to be heard. We do have parents (of color) who go to school board meetings, who go to school council meetings, who write letters to teachers [and] principals [and] athletic directors. So, I'm like, ‘Where's the lever?’ Where's the lever that actually makes something get changed?’ And I can't figure out where that lever is.”13

  • Families report that it can be “difficult to give feedback about teachers and building leaders. There does not appear to be a structured process... [to] facilitate this... Some parents and caregivers also rooted their hesitation to give feedback in cultural values, believing that it is not their role to ‘complain or make waves’ even when something is not going right with their child. Others... believed that it was their right to give feedback and that doing so was the ‘only way things would be different for my child.’ The willingness to give feedback was also rooted in aspects of privilege – participants in the focus groups expressed that white/wealthy parents and caregivers had more agency in the district and their voices were heard more whereas people of color/low income parents and caregivers did not have the same access to privilege.”14

  • “Principals described that they feel held most accountable when a School Committee member brings an issue to the attention of the Superintendent, and that typically the issue is one that has impacted someone with privilege who knows how to access the School Committee. There was a sense that unless it’s ‘powerful white [people]’ who raise an issue the district will not hold principals accountable for following through.”15

  • Community members report that administrators often equate the “absence of discourse” with “consensus.” As one put it, “I would really love to see the district really rethink how they take in information and start to think about not listening to everyone but, instead, really spending time and energy listening to people who, for whatever reason haven't been listened to well… I'm constantly frustrated by the same people showing up at public meetings to say same things, and it’s not representative of the other 90% of people. There is an assumption that if people don’t say anything, then there is consensus. But, I know there are people who are like, ‘I would have said something but I can't because I couldn't get off of work.’ You know?’”16

1 For additional evidence, see the “Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias” barrier
2 CPAR Study 8
3 Principals’ Input and Reflections
4 Educator quote, CPAR Study 1
5 Principals’ Input and Reflections
6 Interview quote, Focus Group Report
7 CPAR Study 8
8 CPAR Preliminary Findings & Recommendations
9 Educator quote, CPAR Study 8
10 Focus Group Report
11 Student quote, Focus Group Report
12 CPAR Study 1
13 Family quote, Focus Group Report
14 Focus Group Report
15 Principals’ Input and Reflections
16 Focus Group Report

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