Posted on June 24, 2019

As Classrooms Grow More Diverse, Equity Training Shows Teachers Have a Lot to Learn

Mará Rose Williams, Kansas City Star, June 23, 2019

The data was clear: minority students in one North Kansas City classroom were not achieving at the same level as other students, and Rene Cooper had a suspicion why.


Across the country public schools like those in North Kansas City, which often have student populations that are far more diverse than their predominantly white and female teaching and administrative staffs, are investing in equity training to help assure every child is getting a fair shot in the classroom.


This new equity, implicit bias and inclusion training flips the script on the typical two- or three-hour annual diversity training. {snip} It’s intended to penetrate into all aspects of an education system, from instruction to student discipline. Even into financing and how the money is divided among a district’s schools.

Teachers in those districts are being asked to critically examine “how their own identities have shaped their experiences,” says a report in Education Week by the American Educational Research Association.

The training then proposes a call to action that requires a change on the educator’s part to do something about the inequities and racial disparities in their districts.


The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that by 2024 more than half of all public school children in the nation will be children of color. White students will represent 46% of that population.

On the other hand more than 80% of public school teachers are white. It’s much higher than that in North Kansas City and in some of the surrounding districts in the Kansas City area.

And here’s the hard part: research confirms that teachers — with their implicit biases — can be a barrier to students of color reaching their full academic potential.


According to a 2016 study at Johns Hopkins University, “white teachers are more likely to doubt educational prospects of black boys and girls.” That study found that a teacher telling a student they’re not smart, directly or indirectly, can weigh heavily on how that student feels about their future and affect the effort they put into doing well in school.

It’s why school districts across the country — including many in the Kansas City area — have looked to equity training as a tool for helping to close the achievement gap between white and black students.

It’s why the National School Board Association, which represents 90,000 school board officials, has made equity training a priority in every state.


The number of black students in North Kansas City schools increased by 50% from 2015 to 2018 and Hispanic students doubled during the same period. More than 125 different languages are spoken by students attending NKC schools.

Clemons used district data to make his point with pie charts showing that in North Kansas City — the third most diverse district in Missouri — a black male is disproportionately more likely to be expelled or suspended and disproportionately less likely to be sitting in an Advance Placement class than his white schoolmates.

A similar lopsided statistic has been true in school districts across the state for years.

Every year since 2008 Missouri schools have handed out around 40 percent of their suspensions to black students, even though those students have never made up more than 20 percent of the public school population.

Clemens told his teachers, 89.5% of whom are white, that there were three possible reasons this was happening: “either we don’t care, we don’t believe all kids can learn, or we have to start understanding more about our unconscious biases.”


The first step is making sure teachers understand what equity truly is. Equal is not equitable, Henderson said. “Equity is not that every man gets a shirt but that every man gets a shirt that fits.”

Educational Equity Consultants, the firm leading training in North Kansas City and hired in Lee’s Summit, has been involved in inclusion and equity training for about 16 years. The firm has worked with nearly 50 districts and education agencies, from California to New York.

“But (the training) has gotten more intense,” said Tony Neal, who is president of EEC and the executive director of the Center for Educational Equity.

“A lot of the training has been impacted by what we see going on in the world,” he said, referring to the impact that political rhetoric has had on the nation’s social and racial climate.


“We realize it’s our biases that contribute to the gaps,” said Derald Davis, assistant superintendent of equity and inclusion.

Davis said that even though 64% of the teachers in the district are white they are not the only ones with biases that contribute to the gaps.

“We are all victims of some socialization. For example, many of our students live in poverty. Most teachers are middle class and they may not be aware of some of the bias they have of students and parents coming from poverty.”

Poor and minority students are not the only ones hurt by implicit bias. Davis said he’s had white and Asian students say teachers who think they should be getting exceptional grades set expectations for them they can’t live up to. “That’s a lot of pressure,” he said.