Category Archives: Diversity Resources

Articles and research on diversity in education

Student Challenges Cardona to Keep Promise on Diversity

Editor’s Note: As a senior at South Windsor High School, Sophia Chin had the exhilarating experience of serving as a student member of the Connecticut State Board of Education. This gave her a platform to express her conviction that the biggest issue facing our public school system is a lack of diverse perspectives in curriculum and teaching. She soon learned that Dr. Miguel Cardona, then Commissioner of Education, shared her views on the importance of cultural diversity in the schools.

Now that Sophia is in her first year at George Washington University and Dr. Cardona is U.S. Secretary of Education, she is challenging him to carry out nationally the policies that he was implementing in Connecticut. Sophia is issuing this challenge as a youth board member with America’s Promise Alliance, which advocates for children and youth.

Congratulations to Sophia for remaining active in the public policy arena despite the demands of studying international affairs and economics. She is pursuing her interest in finance with hopes of joining an international bank and working with diverse clients around the world. With her permission, we are posting the essay that she wrote for the Alliance’s website.Woody Exley

By Sophia Hala Chin

Dr. Miguel Cardona has just been confirmed as President Biden’s Secretary of Education in the most diverse cabinet in United States history. I applaud President Biden for shining a spotlight on a nominee like Dr. Cardona who has accomplished groundbreaking work in his field. Few Americans know what he has done and what kind of person he is. However, I have a unique, firsthand perspective of Dr. Cardona’s commitment to young people—and a few calls to action for him as he assumes this important national role.

Sophia Hala Chin

At the beginning of his tenure as the Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Dr. Cardona appointed two high-school seniors to serve with him on the State Board of Education (SBOE), one of whom was me. Together, we navigated the waters of state education policy, which was a shock compared to our previous environments: me being a senior in high school, and he an educator and assistant superintendent from the small district of Meriden, Connecticut.

When I first began working with him, he made promises to better my learning experience and that of my fellow students. From my perspective, he utilized his position in state office to deliver on those promises in the time that he served. Now, with the platform and resources to make tangible change at the national level, I am hoping to see him deliver on the promises he first made to myself and Connecticut students, along with the new commitments he is making to all of America’s youth.

Lack of Diverse Perspectives

In some of our early conversations, we discussed the essay I wrote to apply for this student leadership position, in which I argued that the lack of diverse perspectives in curriculum and in teaching was the most prominent issue facing the Connecticut public school system. Dr. Cardona and I both know what it is like to not have teachers who look like us in the classroom. As a biracial (white and East Asian) female, I have not had consistent experiences with Asian or mixed-race teachers with whom I can identify, and I am not alone in feeling this way. I have heard Dr. Cardona reminisce about his school days and the lack of recurring Latinx educators throughout his life to give him guidance.

Dr. Cardona listened to young people’s stories and frustrations about this and several other issues by attending student panels across the state and having our State Student Advisory Board present to the BOE. Many of us noted our fatigue with having white teachers for “cultural studies” who relied on stereotypical, one-sided perspectives of race and culture. We wanted a curriculum that featured not only Black, Latinx, and Asian studies–we wanted those classes to be taught in a manner that properly reflects the strengths and nuances of their unaltered history.

Black and Latino Studies Course

After listening to these insights, Dr. Cardona decided to pursue a curriculum for minority studies. In December of 2020, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to require all high schools to offer a curriculum on Black and Latinx studies, and Dr. Cardona helped make the law a reality by leading the Connecticut State Department of Education in a collaborative effort to develop the curriculum.

In the words of Dr. Cardona, “The fact is that more inclusive, culturally relevant content in classrooms leads to greater student engagement and better outcomes for all. This [happened] due in large part to the strong advocacy of students from around the state.”

Simply the thought of having a teacher who looks like me—a multiracial, multiethnic, woman of color—genuinely inspires me to consider becoming an educator in my future. We want such students to go into teaching because they will help and inspire not only children of color but also students who come from dissimilar backgrounds. Dr. Cardona knows what it is like to be that rare educator of color and knows what it means to listen to young people—and act on what he hears.

Affordable Housing and Better Pay

In addition to championing the curriculum revision, Dr. Cardona and I spent time in countless Board meetings discussing the necessity of implementing affordable housing and better pay for educators of color to ensure proper compensation and retention. These types of changes, however, are difficult to encourage without the proper resources. Despite the challenges, Dr. Cardona and his team made notable progress on this front because he is the type of leader who listens and takes direct action. It was rare to see him behind closed doors dictating policy to his team. In fact, he often eliminated the constraints of doors and walls.

Specifically, Dr. Cardona had revolving, open-door office hours during which he set up office in random cubicles on different floors and in different departments, and his employees and student advisors could grab a seat next to him. This openness and direct connection to students allowed us and other team members to speak with him one-on-one about new ideas or improvements to current policy.

Moving forward, I am calling for Dr. Cardona to carry this openness, willingness to listen, and commitment to equity with him as he assumes the role of U.S. Secretary of Education. Dr. Cardona and the Biden administration must do more and do better for teachers and young people, particularly teachers and young people of color. 

Must Listen to Youth Perspectives

In order to make these and other necessary changes, the U.S. Department of Education must listen to youth perspectives. I challenge Dr. Cardona and his team to continue walking the walk when it comes to youth voice by establishing a Student Advisory Board comprised of young people from all different backgrounds to provide the most diverse perspectives.

Since this department is the pinnacle of education policy in the country, it is extremely important that decisions are made with guidance from the primary stakeholders—students.

Americans want to see a Department of Education that translates words into action. We want to see an approach that encourages students to become well-rounded individuals capable of seeing different sides of the world through intellectual and emotional development. This starts at the Department of Education with Dr. Cardona’s lead. Now that he is confirmed, innovation with and for students can begin. I am confident in Secretary Cardona’s character and leadership, and challenge him to enact real change with the help of young people like me.

Editor’s Note: As indicated in Sophia’s essay, she believes strongly that policymakers must listen to students and take their perspectives into account. She has been involved with an organization called “Student Voice,” which encourages students to express their concerns and priorities to their local school boards. To support this, the organization has produced a School Board Testifying Guide. The document describes how to:

  • Become informed and present to your school board,
  • Identify a major issue,
  • Write your testimony, and
  • Present to your school board.

This will be a valuable resource for youths who are getting involved in public policy and sharing their perspectives with those responsible for their local school districts.

Diversity Has an Impact at Bridgeport Academy

Several years ago, the leadership of New Beginnings Family Academy placed a high priority on building a diverse staff.

The initiative has borne fruit as 53 percent of those who work directly with students are persons of color. This includes teachers, full-time teaching assistants, nurses and social workers.

What’s more, 57 percent of the school’s leaders are persons of color, including the director and the principals of the elementary and middle schools.

The charter school in Bridgeport serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. Ninety-five percent of the students are children of color, and most come from low-income families.

Ronelle Swagerty, director and CEO

“We set out to hire qualified adults who look like the children we serve and whose cultural competency ensures deep, meaningful relationships,” says Ronelle Swagerty, director and CEO.

Emotionally Responsive Model

“Our educational model emphasizes emotional responsiveness, and it helps to have those cultural competencies in the classroom so children feel connected,” she says. “Relationships are key. I’m not saying relationships can’t be developed by others, but it’s nice for children to see so many adults in school who look like them.”

How did the leadership achieve such a diverse staff? They took a multi-layered approach that included word-of-mouth and advertising. The Human Resources office has a full-time manager and a part-time recruiter who attend every minority-teacher recruitment fair in the state and some beyond the state.

“Research has shown that children fare far better in an environment with adults who look like them,” Ms. Swagerty says. And teachers of color have an impact on families as well. Some members of the staff are immigrants who can communicate with parents in their own languages.

Diversity of Gender and Ethnicity

Valore Turner, principal of the middle school, says that diversity of gender is just as important as diversity of ethnicity. Currently, the middle-school teaching staff is 50 percent male and female. Before the push for diversity, there were only a few male teachers on the entire staff from Pre-K through eighth grade.

Valore Turner, middle school principal

“It’s important to have male teachers,” she says. “It’s beautiful to see my boys fall in love with reading for the first time simply because their language arts teacher is a man who loves and advocates for pleasure reading.

“Diversity has an impact not only on academics, but also on children’s emotional development,” Ms. Turner says.

“A boys group, led by a male social worker, met once a week last year,” she says. “This group came about after it was observed that the boys had burning questions and were freely spreading incorrect information among one another. Under the guidance of a licensed social worker, a boys’ group was created to help prevent the spread of misinformation. Anonymously, male students put their questions into a jar and the social worker addressed them during the weekly meetings.”

Says Ms. Turner, “It’s important for children to have positive role models of all races and sexes, and we want to ensure that faculty fulfills this need.”

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Future Teachers Mistake Black Students as ‘Angry’ More Than White Students, Study Shows

A new study finds that prospective teachers, most of whom are white, are more likely to identify Black children than white children as angry, even when they’re not.

Madeline Will reported on the study in the July 8 issue of Education Week.

The study examines teacher-candidates’ “racialized anger bias”—a term coined by the researchers that means seeing anger when none exists. One of the researchers, Amy Halberstadt, had previously done a study that looked at how teacher-candidates perceived the facial expressions of Black adults.

“In that first study, we discovered what Black people already know largely—that people perceive Black adults as angry even when they’re not,” said Halberstadt, who is a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. “[In this new study], we found that even older elementary school children are also experiencing racialized anger bias. With prospective teachers who care deeply for children, this is still happening.”

Future Teachers Tested

In this study, researchers studied 178 prospective teachers who were enrolled in education programs at three southeastern universities. Most of the future teachers in the study were white women, which is in line with the national teaching force.

Both white candidates and candidates of color were equally likely to misidentify Black children as angry, Halberstadt said.

Participants were shown 72 short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions and were asked to identify the emotion being displayed. The clips were equally divided between Black and white children and between boys and girls. The children in the clips were between the ages of 9 and 13.

Racialized Anger Bias

Researchers recorded the number of errors that participants made, especially seeing anger when there was none. The study notes that the findings were “clear and robust”: Prospective teachers were 1.36 times more likely to exhibit racialized anger bias against Black children than against white children and incorrectly view the Black child as angry.

Future teachers were 1.74 times more likely to incorrectly identify a Black girl’s facial expression as angry than a white girl’s. Participants were 1.16 times more likely to mistake a Black boy’s expression as angry than a white boy’s.

Black Boys More Likely Perceived as Angry

Overall, Black boys were the most likely to be incorrectly assumed to be angry by future teachers, Halberstadt said. White girls were the least likely. Past research has found that adults view Black girls, aged 5 to 14, as less innocent and more adult-like than white girls.

Researchers said they would expect to see even higher levels of anger bias in the actual classroom, when teachers have to make split-second judgments of the situation.