Pulling back the curtain: What the Equity Audit reveals about District 214’s current practices

Last Thursday, the district presented its Equity Audit at its board meeting, and subsequently posted the document on its website (in the “Equity” section of “About D214”).  The document itself is laden with buzzwords, its authors don’t clearly distinguish between text authored by district staff and by the outside vendor, and it’s hard to make sense of the recommendations themselves (some of which may or may not be opinions voiced by staff who were surveyed).  But it became clear that many of the recommendations typically found in these sorts of reports were not present here, because they are apparently already being implemented — and without families being aware that their children’s high school experience is evolving to be quite different than what they expect.

Specifically, schools are expanding earned honors and eliminating (or making plans to eliminate) traditional honors classes, as well as getting rid of the lower-level classes.

They are implementing “grading for equity” (read more on this here).

They are implementing “restorative justice.”

They are implementing instruction in gender ideology.

Here, then, are the ways, scattered throughout the document, that these changes are revealed, as well as quotes highlighting teachers’ points of view about their desires for the future.  As you read these, you might be inclined to think I am reading too much into any one statement, but I challenge you to read the whole equity audit.  What’s more, it’s important to keep in mind that the district rejects FOIA requests seeking this sort of information by claiming information is exempt in a multitude of ways and even in the audit, multiple staff members complain that the district has failed to provide other information (such as data on academic achievement disparities) even to staff members who ought to have this for their jobs.

Page 12 (all pages are as labelled in the document):  “Removal of prep level.”   This is a bullet point, but refers to eliminating lower-level academic classes due to “equity’ considerations out of a belief that kids are being unfairly placed in those classes and deprived of more challenging instruction.

” Restorative Practice: changed practices to allow for student voice, reflection and situation-based actions as personalized approach to disciplinary action.”  This appears throughout the document; the district is attempting to reduce disparities in disciplinary actions among racial/ethnic demographic groups by means of what’s called “restorative justice.”  Believing that a misbehaving student will change his behavior if only he is counseled better, traditional punitive measures are jettisoned.  In some cases, the victim is actually obliged to instruct the offender in which his behavior was harmful.

Page 13:  “affinity groups” have been launched for both students and staff.  These are segregated support groups for racial/ethnic minorities.

21:  “Hersey has a syllabi statement” and 23:  “Some schools have sent out language around Culturally Responsive/Relevant Teaching that could be put in syllabi.”  Honestly I don’t know what this is intended to be but, as the kids say, it sounds pretty sus.  A google search only turned up examples from college classes which offered apologies for course writings in a science class being authored by white men, or encouragement for students to complain about racist statements, and the like.

23:  as suggestions for next steps:  “maybe having courses like Latin American studies, Asian American, African American studies, relationship building among teachers who look like the students. Talk among PLCs about how where they are in how their units and assignments are culturally responsive.”  Also:  “The [test score improvement] goals the district has had in the past. We had them memorized and we were obsessed with them. We need this for DEI! Need specific tenets and antiracism must be taken on with training for EVERY person in district.”

24:  Categorized as “strong but structure needed”:  “Piloting earned honors programs.”  As Suggestions for Next Steps, in progress:  “Increasing support for staff on switching to de-tracking and earned honors” (that is, indicating that more classes are planned to move to earned honors beyond the few that now are).   Under the “strong” category:  “Evaluate the use of programs for ‘gifted and honors’ students.”  (This means questioning whether they should continue.)

25: “One school is doing a lot with restorative practices becoming embedded in the classroom, others just have it nominally.”   “The training is out there but they have not learned how to do it well. Trauma-informed practices for example does not meet [sic] excusing kids from all major assignments. We don’t know how to filter it out to helping and healing students.”  I take this as the staff member implying that students are right now being excused from assignments because they have experienced “trauma,” and that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be implemented.

105:  From a student,  “We have queer representation in the library books and great that it is normalized in books and library spaces.” Being normalized in “library spaces” strongly suggests that there are book displays not just content on the shelves.

Also:  “In the three years I’ve been in the school, there was one teacher that mentioned transgender people, and that some people were born in the wrong body.”
“I’ve seen videos where little siblings who were gay or used, they/them pronouns excited me because it was seen as normal and instead of being seen as a huge thing.”

106:  “My school brought someone in-person to talk to us about gender identity in health and in regards to our bodies or straight sex. I don’t feel like they taught us anything about sex other than straight sex. That’s close minded. We’re in 2021. Lots of queer people in my school and we also need to be educated about safe sex. They cover basis [basics?] with gender identity unicorn but don’t feel like they wanted to educate people about gender identity and sex.”

107:  “We’ve been reading Grading for Equity and implementing strategies to be more equitable across policies, procedures so it has been a great culmination in the last couple of years of personal reflection. In reading this book, we have tools to make sure look at class with other lens to not inadvertently be inequitable for any student, so policies and classroom practices implemented are excellent. We’re excited about it and shared with staff, but never in many years felt more confident about a grade and it has nothing to do with identities, extra credit, behavior, and SES. We have removed from old grade system and simply have them know content and feel really good about it. Having conversations to reconcile our old ways with new ways of thinking.”

“I know in our history classes, there is a unit with identity. In the math world, there isn’t much conversation, we teach X and Y, and no room for it or find those things that might mix in.”

112:  “This year, we were asked pronouns by some teachers as an introduction, like favorite color, and I think they were trying to do the is right thing, but people change pronouns throughout the year. Gender identity is fluid, and it feel like a bit transphobic of them to not ask for pronouns throughout year.”

113:  “Aside from curriculum, we engage with LGBTQ+ identity discussions at time, but only amongst a couple of teachers and administrators.”

“We need to normalize talking about identities. There is a push in that direction where administration is having that conversation, but not all of them. Seeing it more with teachers and that’s helpful. It needs to be communicated that that this is an expectation and value.”

115:  ” Transgender, lesbian and queer students seem more out in the building than gay boys. There is a lack of place for them.”

Other items of concern:

28:  “We didn’t have any flyers in Spanish for board election information.”  Does that mean that the schools were promoting the board election? To whom? Were they promoting re-electing The Slate?

And, finally, a few items in which concerned parents made an appearance in the report:

28:  “Why are the loudest parents the ones who are anti maskers?”

122:  “Unfortunately, I had joined D214 Facebook group and there is so much misconception by a lot of people as to why certain things are happening. If the school district was more transparent it would help with conspiracy theories.”


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