September 27, 2023

Report urges public schools to do more to address racism

UCR scholar is the lead author of Civil Rights Project report

Author: UCR News
September 27, 2023

As conservative governors and legislatures across the nation seek to limit learning and discussion in schools about race and racial history, a report led by a UC Riverside scholar and published by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, calls on schools, educators, and policymakers to do just the opposite – challenging them to positively address racism and its impact on learning and opportunity.

Suneal Kolluri
Suneal Kolluri

“Pedagogies and curricula that are welcoming for white students and exclusionary for students of color can reproduce the experience of segregation even when students are in the same classroom,” said Suneal Kolluri, assistant professor in UCR’s School of Education.  “White students will be able to engage intellectually with classroom content, and other students will not, furthering racial divisions.”

Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, added, “At a time when schools and educators in conservative states are being forbidden to teach about racial history, and staff positions devoted to equity in schools and colleges are being shut down as part of a politics of fear of racial change, this important paper takes a very different stance. This report draws on decades of research to make the case for effective collaboration, educational practices, and strategies to counter racial division. 

“The report’s authors call for more work on race not less, arguing that racial divisions and inequality at the classroom level can and must be addressed if we are to further learning, equality and opportunity,” Orfield said.

The report, “The Racial Reckoning and the Role of Schooling: Exploring the Potential of Integrated Classrooms and Liberatory Pedagogies,” was written by scholars who also have deep experience as teachers. 

The research summarizes the long history of segregation in American schools, underscoring its pervasive and increasing impact. Looking beyond the segregation of schools and school districts, the authors address informal and formal structures that isolate students of color within schools and even classrooms, and how limited curriculum and ill-informed and ineffective teaching practices limit opportunities and reinforce segregation and inequality. Their report argues that solving problems rooted in race requires applying the best research on solutions.

While acknowledging the persistent and pervasive presence of racism in the United States, the authors offer a framework for educators to pursue an honest reckoning on racial inequality. They assert that schools need to play a stronger role in confronting racism, and advancing research-based suggestions for lessening segregation, and furthering equality, opportunity, and justice.

“This paper suggests an approach to school integration that advances the critical consciousness of students and educators by grappling with the realities of race and racism, and fosters engaging learning environments for reimagining schools as liberatory spaces that can help achieve the racial reckoning needed to realize opportunities for justice in the United States,” said co-author Liane I. Hypolite, assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Cal Poly Pomona.

The research makes clear that schools remain segregated, but the paper underscores research indicating integration is possible, citing public support for government action to address school segregation and anti-segregation measures, and suggesting that bilingual and magnet schools may offer avenues for desegregation. School desegregation alone however is not sufficient, and the report suggests strategies and practices for improving curriculum and pedagogy that can increase racial literacy and reconciliation. One example is the use of Ethnic Studies courses necessitating that students of all racial backgrounds consider race in school. Recent research has found significant gains in academic achievement among students participating in such courses.

“The expansion of Ethnic Studies courses to more students across the country is a promising development that will encourage more students to consider systemic racism and the cultural strengths and historical contributions of marginalized communities,” said co-author Kimberly Young, a teacher and co-chair of the Social Science Department at Culver City High School. 

The other co-authors are Liane I. Hypolite, assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Cal Poly Pomona, and Alexis Patterson Williams, associate professor and incoming chair of Teacher Education at the University of California, Davis.

The authors contend that schools can play a pivotal role in elevating important conversations about race, noting that schools can connect neighborhoods and communities, and bridge social divides through racially integrated learning opportunities, bringing us closer together to addressing racism in the United States. They also note that classroom conversations about race may also benefit young children. The authors conclude that a racial reckoning in the United States may depend on our ability to design schools that meaningfully advance racial equality. 

“We are living in a time when schools and educators are being banned from addressing issues of oppression and injustice,” said Alexis Patterson Williams, a co-author of the report and associate professor of Teacher Education at the University of California, Davis. “This paper encourages teachers to pursue racial justice anyhow, and provides research-based approaches to do so.“

This commissioned work is the fourth in a series of research papers, published by the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, exploring a civil rights agenda for the next quarter century. The series explores the potential for social change and equity policies in the nation.  The full paper is available online here.

Cover photo by Getty Images


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