What is race equity? And how do we get there?

Very recently, I had the opportunity to present with my colleague Aara Johnson at the National Forum on Community Schools conference in Baltimore, where we led a professional development workshop to share MnEEP models on community engagement processes and practices with after-school center leaders, educators, outreach workers, teachers and community school leaders, and others.

To put our case studies into perspective, we started with a discussion of the definition of race equity and race equity frameworks for community engagement models. It quickly occurred to Aara and me that a discussion on defining race equity was something several participants of our Institute were still seeking.

The question “What is Race Equity?” seemed so basic, yet so fundamental to these leaders seeking to change behavior, systems, and school-community cultures. We heard participants ask – What will an equitable school community look like? What are the direct policy proposals that help achieve these new outcomes? What will decision-making look like in an equitable system?

At MnEEP, we use “race equity” and “equity lens” to define our goals, and also continue to assess their meaning from other think tanks and race-equity advocacy organizations in the work we do every day.

To understand what race equity looks like, we must first understand the serious inequities in education, and what it looks like to remove them.

Below is an unpacking of how we define race equity, and how it continues to evolve as inequities persist and become more marked across the country.

Defining Race Equity and MnEEP

To define race equity, we must first start with a clear understanding of the inequities in Minnesota’s education system. Minnesota continues to see persistent test-result gaps of 20-30 points between students of color and their white peers. The consistent mere 4 percent of teachers of color in Minnesota represent inequities in workforce development and sustainability of teachers of color and American Indian teachers.

In addition, poor testing outcomes for English learners exemplifies the barriers of curriculum and instruction for our immigrant and U.S. born multilingual learners.  These academic opportunity gaps are a result of years of intentional, explicit policy barriers that have widened social and academic outcomes.

Legal segregation barred students of color from white affluent schools; language discrimination barred students from learning their native languages or having their cultures celebrated; and students of color or American Indian teachers, Black teachers, Asian and Latina teachers have not always had pathways established that encourage and support their role in U.S. schools.

A new condition for race equity brings about clear remedies for historic and present-day structural and policy barriers producing racial disparities and disparate impacts.

In a Race Equity condition:

  • -People of color and American Indian students, families, and teachers are provided the learning assistance specific to their needs and full access to learning opportunities that build on their talents and cultural assets.
  • -Those who are most impacted by inequities have the space to build power and lead through collective action.  Students and families of color provide input into decisions that impact their education and life opportunities.
  • -As Dr. Ron Ferguson of Harvard Achievement Gap Institute states: Race equity is raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement levels.

To that end, race equity is not merely a value, it is a systemic shift. Race equity is actualized fairness and justice.


PolicyLink’s Equity Manifesto

PolicyLink is an important and influential national organization that is shaping the discipline and practice of building equitable policies, systems, and structures in the United States. MnEEP staff and partners have attended the national PolicyLink conferences and have gained much insight for the collective education equity advocacy we are doing here in Minnesota.

PolicyLink helps guide leaders’ thinking with an “Equity Manifesto,” which I highly recommend that institutions and individuals also review and discuss with their colleagues and leaders.

Their profound closing Manifesto statement reads: “This is equity:  just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.  Unlocking the promise of a nation by unleashing the promise in us all.”


Using an Equity Lens in Decision-Making

Actualizing your Race Equity definition of your institution, will take a collective understanding of the vocabulary around this concept and protocols for evaluating policies, programs and procedures. Some of these questions include:

  • Who are the racial/ethnic groups affected by this policy/program/practice and what are potential impacts?
  • Could this policy/program/practice worsen or ignore existing disparities that produce unintended consequences?
  • How are you intentionally involving stakeholders, who are members of the communities affected by this policy/program/practice?

(questions from the Portland Public Schools Racial Equity Lens Bookmark, https://www.psesd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Equity-Lense-Bookmark-WEB-PPS.pdf)

Your Leadership Challenge: Defining and Bringing “Life” into a Race Equity Definition

It’s important to have a deep discussion with your colleagues, staff, community about the realities of historic discrimination through policy and practice in U.S. education.  These histories sting us all – but without this understanding, envisioning a new society and Race Equity condition is difficult.  Then, with a Race Equity definition and vision, there must be training and development on the practice of equity-centered decision-making with an “Equity Lens.” What do you look for as a decision-maker and how will you center community voice to remedy systemic racism in our school-communities?

MnEEP is here to support your journey and we know you are challenging yourselves, your school-community, your peers and our society. There is no bigger civic challenge than that support to build a beloved community.

Get in touch with us if you want to learn more or have additional questions.

Posted in Our Voices, Race Equity

Jennifer Godinez View posts by Jennifer Godinez

Jennifer works in partnership with Minnesota communities to build Race Equity Plans and advance policies and practices that promote culturally responsive classrooms and encourage student success.
Posted in Our Voices, Race Equity

Jennifer Godinez View posts by Jennifer Godinez

Jennifer works in partnership with Minnesota communities to build Race Equity Plans and advance policies and practices that promote culturally responsive classrooms and encourage student success.
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