Kids of color get kicked out of school at higher rates – here’s how to stop it

By Samuel Song, University of Nevada, Las Vegas via The Conversation U.S.

When two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks where they had been waiting for a business meeting on April 12, the incident called renewed attention to the bias that racial minorities face in American society.

A few days later, a similar incident unfolded at an LA Fitness in New Jersey.

While these two incidents involved adults at places of business, the reality is black children face similar treatment in America’s schools.

The latest evidence is in a recent federal report that shows boys, black students and students with disabilities get kicked out of school at higher rates than their peers.

Findings like this are disturbing, but they are hardly surprising. As a trainer of school psychologists, consultant and researcher, I have worked with schools on the matter of racial disparities in school discipline, along with other problems of justice.

I believe racial disparities in school discipline will persist until educators seriously examine the role their decisions play in the matter. They will also persist until schools begin to implement new strategies that have proven it’s not necessary to kick kids out of school to effectively deal with their behavior.

The source of disparities

Racial disparities in school discipline are nothing new. In 2014 – after years of “zero tolerance” policies proved problematic – the Obama administration issued a guidance to remind schools of their obligation to teach all children and not to suspend or expel them unfairly.

Yet, the new federal data show that for virtually every school in the country for the 2013-14 school year, racial disparities were present irrespective of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of school attended. The bottom line is that some sort of bias is at play.

In research on the subject, this bias is known as implicit bias. This is defined as automatic, unconscious associations and stereotypes about groups of people that affect our understanding, actions and decisions. This topic has been studied extensively and popularized by a collaborative research project housed at Harvard University.

How real is implicit bias? In a series of four experimental studies, the fourth study, using state-of-the-art eye-tracking methodology, demonstrated that – when asked to judge who was telling the truth – whites gazed more quickly at the “lie” response for blacks, which suggests a spontaneous mistrust of blacks. This is consistent with what other researchers have found. Interestingly, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson mentioned implicit bias as one of the issues potentially at play in the Starbucks incident.

One study on implicit bias in schools concluded that teachers and staff viewed black girls’ behavior differently. The same study found that black girls were three times more likely to receive office referrals for discipline compared to white girls for subjective discipline violations. A different study found that black students were disciplined for subjective interpretations of behaviors, such as “disobedience” and “disruptive behavior.”

An experimental study conducted at Yale found that preschool teachers gazed at black boys longer compared to other children when asked to look for challenging behavior on video clips.

This tendency to view black children with more suspicion harms the relationships between teachers and black students.

In issuing the new report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO, lists several areas to target racial disparities in school discipline. In my experience working with schools, I believe the GAO’s recommendations are correct, but will only work under certain conditions.

In search of alternatives

The first recommendation is to implement alternative forms of discipline that focus on proactive and preventative strategies for the whole school rather than reactive punishment. In my work with schools implementing such approaches, the biggest problem is the degree to which teachers and staff may not have buy-in on the strategies to implement them properly.

For example, some teachers and staff with one particular initiative became frustrated with certain challenging students and rarely gave praise or “behavior bucks,” which could be traded in for privileges and stickers. And when teachers did distribute the “behavior bucks,” they were sarcastic about it and often belittled students rather than being encouraging. In essence, teachers turned a positive strategy into a harmful one.

Due to the potential lack of buy-in from teachers, it is important to use strategies that enable a more collaborative approach to deciding the consequences.

This is the strength of the restorative justice approach. Restorative justice is built upon a foundation of empowering students to collaboratively have their voices heard, take responsibility for one’s actions, and make hurt relationships right again through community dialogue.

For example, restorative justice approaches will gather students and adults together in a circle to discuss the infraction by focusing on who was harmed and what the community can do to make the hurt relationship right again, which is often a plan of amends. These circle discussions with various adults and students allow for all parties to understand one another’s perspective and produce empathy for students, teachers and classmates. In my view, collaborative decision-making is the key to reducing biases.

Restorative justice has been shown to reduce racial disparities in discipline directly, which perhaps explains why other programs are integrating restorative justice strategies into their programs.

Second, there need to be new laws and policies to discourage punitive, exclusionary disciplinary practices in schools and to encourage alternative approaches to school discipline.

For example, California prohibits the use of suspensions and expulsions for children in grades K-3 for willful defiance. Other states and school districts, such as Illinois and Seattle, have done so as well.

The ConversationFinally, it would be helpful if America’s schools had more school psychologists on hand. Unfortunately, the nation’s schools suffer from a shortage of school psychologists at a time when they are needed most to help address complex issues of racial disparities in school discipline.

Samuel Song, Associate Professor of School Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2018 NCTM Lifetime Achievement Award: Bill Speer

Congratulations to Dr. William (Bill) Speer for being awarded the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Lifetime Achievement Award! The NCTM Lifetime Achievement Awards honor members of NCTM who have exhibited a lifetime of achievement in mathematics education at the national level and is presented annually at the NCTM Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Watch the video below to hear more about Dr. Speer’s life and legacy.


Dr. William Speer has spent most of his life working to improve mathematics education in more than fifteen different roles over the years at institutions across the country. He is known for his tireless efforts and contributions to advancements within the field. He received two Fulbright Awards, to the Bahamas and to England, and has spoken or consulted in thirty-six countries on six continents.

A former student and eventual colleague recounted the first time he met Speer during his time as an associate professor of mathematics at Bowling Green State University in Ohio:

“Even in 1980, he was already well known on the campus for being innovative and inspirational-the type of teacher that influenced his students to think differently about what it means to be a mathematics teacher. It was many years before I had fully appreciated how far ahead of his time he was in the teaching methods he promoted-hands on, inquiry-based, student centered-all of the teaching strategies that research backs today.”

Speer has played several roles in the development and publishing of key mathematics standards and materials alongside the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). From helping to create NCTM’s Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics as a member of the writing team in 1991 to serving as the editor of the IDEAS section for Arithmetic Teacher and editor of the INVESTIGATIONS section of Teaching Children Mathematics to serving as the general editor for the final series of NCTM Yearbooks, Speer has undoubtedly made contributions that benefit both NCTM and the broader field.

It is no surprise that he has been the recipient of numerous awards over his years of commitment to mathematics, including Outstanding Service in Math Education Awards from both the Ohio Council and the Nevada Council; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Distinguished Teaching Award; the Distinguished BS Alum of Northern Illinois University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and most recently, the Distinguished PhD Alum of Kent State University Award. He has also served on more than 40 research projects; has published a textbook with a lifespan of 12 editions and numerous other scholarly books or chapters; and has been a speaker on more than 700 occasions.

Dr. Speer is a past president of several professional organizations, including the Research Council on Mathematics Learning, the School Science and Mathematics Association, the Ohio Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Ohio Mathematics Education Leadership Council, the Nevada Mathematics Council (two terms), and the Nevada Association of Teacher Educators (two terms).

Speer is currently a mathematics professor and Founder/Director of the UNLV Mathematics Learning Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he continues to make an impact on everyone he encounters through transition, retention, progression, and degree-completion initiatives.

“Dr. Speer can always be counted on to step in and be a part of any task that will help the Nevada Department of Education further its mission and the goal of the ALL Students College and Career Ready by Graduation [initiative],” said a nominator and current colleague. “We are proud that Dr. Speer represents Nevada on a state and national basis.”

Speer holds a PhD in Curriculum, Instruction, and Supervision from Kent State University, and both an MS Ed in Secondary Education and a BS in Mathematics from Northern Illinois University. Now in his forty-eighth year of teaching, he has amassed classroom experience at each level and inspires those around him while continuing to influence and motivate both students and colleagues with the trajectory he set in motion many years ago.

Originally posted on the NCTM Website

Nuestros Maestros (Our Teachers) Spotlight: Dr. Miguel Gonzales

Read the recent spotlight on College of Education Assistant Professor Miguel Gonzales by Univision Noticias. Their partnership project with Pearson, Nuestros Maestros (Our Teachers), seeks to spotlight Latino teachers who are making a difference in our rapidly diversifying communities.

Univision notes, “When students have a teacher who looks like them, their absenteeism goes down, they concentrate more, their grades improve and their graduation rates go up. But although a quarter of the country’s students are Hispanic, only 7 percent of teachers are Hispanic. These teachers make a big difference.”

Read the original article below or on the Univision Noticias website. An English translation is available here.


Para este maestro los docentes hispanos tienen dos almas, una en el mundo estadounidense y otra en el latino

Para Miguel Gonzáles, exitoso maestro de educación y enseñanza en Las Vegas, el sistema educativo está fallando a los estudiantes. Según su filosofía de enseñanza, si un profesor no se interesa verdaderamente por sus estudiantes, no puede enseñarles ni inspirarles. Él lo sabe bien: tanto su hermana como su padre, quien fue su inspiración, fueron profesores como él.

Por Juliana Jiménez • Primero publicado en Univision Noticias


El deber del maestro es algo grande y noble, porque en realidad es el maestro que tiene ambos el presente y el futuro en sus manos al mismo tiempo. | David Maris

Miguel Gonzáles viene de una familia de maestros. Hoy es un exitoso profesor de liderazgo, psicología educacional y estudios superiores en la Universidad de Nevada, Las Vegas, pero el camino para llegar hasta allí fue largo. Y comienza con su papá.

-Cuéntanos la historia de tu padre. ¿Él influyó en tu decisión de ser maestro?

Mi padre siempre fue un gran ejemplo e influencia en mi vida. Él nació en Texas, de padres inmigrantes de México, de San Luis Potosí y Monterrey. Creció en un ambiente pobre, sin mucho apoyo y recursos de sus padres, prácticamente solo. Como muchos hispanos en EEUU, al graduarse de la secundaria, no se atrevió a asistir a la universidad.

Por años, se dedicó a trabajar en empleos de salario mínimo y muchas veces tenía más de dos trabajos para sostener a nuestra familia de cuatro hijos. Cuando yo tenía 11 años, mi padre tuvo, digamos, una epifanía, y se dio cuenta de que para progresar y ayudar a nuestra familia tenía que volver a estudiar. Entonces en ese momento, se dio cuenta también que quería ser maestro.

A mi padre le encantó la idea de ser maestro porque él se consideraba a sí mismo un “adolescente jubilado” y le gustaba estar con jóvenes. Quería ayudar y servir a la juventud, especialmente la juventud hispana, con las herramientas para navegar exitosamente en esta sociedad moderna. Entonces, cuando yo tenía 17 años y estaba a punto de graduarme de la secundaria, mi papá se graduó de la universidad, en 1999. Al año siguiente, había logrado su sueño de ser maestro.

El ver el sacrificio, ejemplo, dedicación y sobre todo el gozo que sentía mi papá por ser maestro me inspiró a seguir sus mismos pasos. Yo también quería tener el mismo gozo e influencia en los jóvenes y en la comunidad hispana como lo tenía él.

– Cuéntanos del momento en que decidiste ser maestro y cómo se materializó esa idea

Me hice maestro de secundaria en 2008. Tuve la dicha de ser maestro de la misma secundaria donde me gradué en 1999 (Santa Maria High School). Fue una experiencia inolvidable. Me sentí realmente como un adolescente de nuevo cuando empecé mi carrera como maestro en aquella escuela. Allí tienen y tenían una población estudiantil predominantemente hispana con pocos maestros hispanos. Tuve el privilegio de representar a la comunidad hispana no solamente como profesor, sino también como un alumno hispano de esa escuela.

El maestro latino tiene dos almas, uno en el mundo estadounidense y otro en lo latino. | David Maris

Durante la mayor parte de mi vida, asistí a escuelas de nivel socioeconómico bajo. No tuve muchas experiencias buenas en cuanto a mi propio aprendizaje. Vi y pasé por cosas que jamás deberían pasar en una escuela. Y lamentablemente, las investigaciones nos enseñan que los alumnos de escuelas de niveles socioeconómicos bajos tienen menos probabilidad de graduarse de la secundaria, obtener empleo bueno y asistir a la universidad.

No fue hasta que empecé a asistir a la facultad que me di cuenta que me habían robado mi educación; en otras palabras, me robaron oportunidades de aprender, progresar y de desarrollar mis habilidades e intereses. Fue en ese momento que sentí la urgencia de ser maestro y quería que ningún alumno se sintiera engañado o robado de una buena educación.

-¿Cómo fue el camino hasta convertirte en maestro? ¿Fuiste por la ruta tradicional?

Como mencioné, fue en la universidad que me di cuenta de que me engañaron en mi educación y no quería que ningún estudiante pasara por la misma experiencia. Allí me dediqué a ser maestro. Empecé en el college comunitario local y luego me transferí a la Universidad de California en Santa Barbara.

Cuando me gradué, me tomé otro año más en la Universidad de Chapman para sacar mi título de maestro y a la vez una maestría en pedagogía. A medida que yo progresaba en mi carrera de maestro, sentía un gran anhelo de obtener un doctorado. Empecé a aplicar a varias universidades y para mi sorpresa, fui aceptado para estudiar en la Universidad de Harvard. Era un sueño mío estudiar en Harvard.

Pero este sueño fue de corta duración. Después de matricularme en Harvard tuve que dejar la escuela porque no pude obtener las finanzas necesarias para pagar la matrícula. Gracias a Dios, Él tenía otros planes para mí. Poco tiempo después de dejar a Harvard, fui aceptado para el programa doctoral de la Universidad del Sur de California (USC). Durante mi tiempo en USC, acepté la posición de subdirector de una escuela secundaria en Santa Barbara. Un año después acepté otra posición para ser director ejecutivo de una escuela charter y me gradué del programa doctoral de USC.

Ahora soy profesor de liderazgo y políticas de educación en la Universidad de Nevada en Las Vegas. Es mi meta y esperanza ayudar a cambiar nuestro sistema educativo para el bienestar de nuestro futuro y también ayudar a los jóvenes hispanos a ser exitosos en nuestra sociedad.

Según tu experiencia, ¿cuál ha sido el aspecto más gratificante de enseñar?
Al establecer una relación con los estudiantes, los maestros tienen la oportunidad de ayudarles a cambiar su pensamiento, hábitos e incluso carácter. | David Maris

Uno de los aspectos más gratificantes son las relaciones que se establecen con los alumnos. Al establecer una relación con los estudiantes, los maestros tienen la oportunidad de ayudarles a cambiar su pensamiento, hábitos e incluso carácter. Siempre me asombraba cada vez que recibía cartas de mis alumnos que me agradecían por el impacto que tuve en sus vidas. Para mí, esas cartas valían más que el oro.

¿Tienes una anécdota de un estudiante con el que hayas conectado de manera especial?

Recuerdo un año, era el primer día de clases, le pedí a un alumno que leyera algo en voz alta. Se negó a leer y empezó a ser muy grosero conmigo y sus compañeros de clase. Le pedí que saliera del aula por un tiempo porque empezó a salirse de control.

Pensé que este adolescente iba a ser una pesadilla para mí y que él iba a ser muy problemático para la clase entera. Salí de mi aula y comencé a hablar con él y descubrí que él hizo una escena a propósito porque no sabía leer. No recuerdo exactamente lo que le dije ese día, pero le prometí que si entraba a mi aula durante la hora del almuerzo le enseñaría a leer. Él se animó y empezó a venir a mi aula durante la hora del almuerzo, y así comenzamos a establecer una relación positiva. Su lectura mejoró y también su comportamiento.

Al final del año, me escribió una carta dándome las gracias y me hizo un pisapapeles en forma de pato en su clase de carpintería, el cual todavía conservo.

¿Por qué crees que es importante tener maestros latinos, como tú, en las aulas?

El maestro latino tiene dos almas, uno en el mundo estadounidense y otro en lo latino. Con esta ventaja, el maestro latino puede llegar a ser un puente entre las escuelas y la comunidad latina.

Quería ayudar a la comunidad latina con las herramientas para navegar exitosamente en esta sociedad moderna. | David Maris

Con el aumento de alumnos latinos en las escuelas públicas, he observado que muchos colegios, sin ninguna mala intención, no entienden la cultura hispana y mucho menos la cultura inmigrante. Además, hay muchos maestros hoy en día que no entienden la complejidad que es ser latino en EEUU. Tampoco entienden lo complejo que es para los padres hispanos que están tratando criar a un niño americano.

Sin embargo, la mayoría de los maestros hispanos sí entienden esta complejidad y pueden ser una clave principal para ayudar a la comunidad latina a seguir adelante. Pueden ayudar a convertir las escuelas en espejos, no ventanas, de la comunidad latina. En efecto, los alumnos latinos deben ver su identidad reflejada en su comunidad escolar (espejos), para saber que la gente “como yo” son ciudadanos plenos en la escuela.

Igualmente importante es que los alumnos latinos sean desafiados a mirar fuera de sí mismos (ventanas) para entender, respetar y apreciar las culturas e identidades de los demás.

-¿Qué has aprendido siendo maestro? ¿Qué has aprendido de tus alumnos?

Algo que he aprendido como maestro es que el maestro tiene mucho poder. El deber del maestro es algo grande y noble, porque en realidad es el maestro que tiene ambos el presente y el futuro en sus manos al mismo tiempo.

A la vez, he reconocido que el sistema educativo que tenemos hoy en día no proveerá a los jóvenes los recursos, experiencias y habilidades que necesitarán para competir y trabajar en el siglo 21. Nuestro sistema educativo es esencialmente un modelo industrial de educación, un modelo de fabricación, digamos, que se basa en la linealidad y la conformidad.

Yo creo que tenemos que cambiar el sistema educativo a un modelo que se base más en los principios de la agricultura. Tenemos que reconocer que el florecimiento humano no es un proceso mecánico; es un proceso orgánico. En realidad, no se puede predecir el resultado del desarrollo humano. Todo lo que puedes hacer, como un granjero, es crear las condiciones bajo las cuales empezarán a florecer. Y son los maestros y los líderes de las escuelas que tienen este gran privilegio y deber crear las condiciones bajo las cuales los alumnos empezarán a florecer.

He aprendido muchas cosas de mis alumnos. He llegado a la conclusión que los alumnos realmente quieren un maestro que demuestre interés sincero por su bienestar. Sin mostrar que le importa realmente su bienestar, el maestro no puede llegar a enseñar ni a inspirar al alumno.


Para aprender más sobre la importante labor de los profesores latinos en nuestras comunidades, visita nuestro proyecto en conjunto con Pearson, Nuestros Maestros.

What’s the Alternative? Advancing Learning Opportunities for Black Students

By Dr. Iesha Jackson | Originally posted on National Center for Institutional Diversity

During the 2013–2014 school year, I conducted a qualitative research study in a transfer high school in New York City. I wanted to understand how Black students make sense of their schooling experiences at the intersections of race, gender, and age. Six young adults, Amir, Evelyn, Karma, Monica, Shaun, and Wayne*, ranging in age from 18 to 20, were ultimately my guides and teachers as I pursued these answers. Together, the six students had attended a combined total of 15 schools prior to enrolling at Seeds of Promise High School (what I’ll call “Promise High”), where the study was conducted. They had unique Promise High experiences and various reasons for attending this particular school. However, they all expressed a commitment to earning a high school diploma and a desire to go to college.

What I found during my time with these six Black young adults is that there was limited access to curricular, extracurricular, and culturally relevant opportunities that would support the holistic development of what Cahill, Lynch, and Hamilton (2006) call “overage, under-credited” (OA/UC) learners. OA/UC students are at least two years behind their peers in terms of age and credits earned toward a high school diploma. Not surprisingly to those familiar with issues of educational inequity, students of color, students just like Amir, Evelyn, Karma, Monica, Shaun, and Wayne, are overrepresented in this population throughout the United States.

Based on insights from Amir, Evelyn, Karma, Monica, Shaun, and Wayne, as well as research in teaching and learning, I have outlined four essential approaches to creating culturally relevant, age appropriate learning opportunities for OA/UC Black students.

  1. If you’re there, care.

As legal adults who had spent more than the traditional 13 years in K-12 schools, the high school students I met discussed the pressures they felt to graduate before “aging out” (i.e., becoming ineligible to re-enroll because of their age). Their stories were wrought with contradictions as they wavered between discussing the supportive environment of the school and the various types of invisibility they faced. Thankfully, these students were able to find occasional support. This support often came from their female teachers and administrators of color who made students feel individually heard and valued. On the other hand, students also had specific teachers they felt were “only there for a paycheck,” and they talked about practices they felt did not honor their positionality as Black young adults in New York City capable of making mature, self-motivated personal and academic decisions. Monica described her “welcome” to the school by saying:

I felt like when I first came, they [school professionals in charge of enrolling new students] was like…they didn’t really want to accept me because of my age. They didn’t think I would do any work. They probably think I would just stay in here being 18, 19, 20, 21 and not do anything.

The young men and women indicated that key changes to practice they wanted at Promise High include teaching with passion, making use of current technology, and supporting students to high levels of academic achievement while creating a learning environment in which students feel cared for by all school professionals.

2. Provide life-centered learning.

Towards the end of the school year, I gathered participants for individual interviews, asking them to reflect on their personal experiences at Promise High over the year. Because Wayne had recently started working and realized “it’s a struggle to manage [money],” he expressed interest in learning more about financial literacy and links between economics and politics. He shared:

I feel like we should be have more economic, political classes, or geared toward the subject. Because a lot of us are still in the mindset of, ‘Mommy and daddy are gonna take care of me. Then I’m gonna leave high school, get a job, and I’m gonna have so much money. Like making $80 dollars an hour. I’m gonna have an apartment and a girlfriend et cetera.’

While economics is offered at Promise High, the students who took the course described it as impractical. Therefore, the students requested curricula that realistically address their future goals as well as their present circumstances. This recommendation speaks to the importance of both covering the standards so students like Wayne can graduate, but also endeavoring to make learning personally meaningful and directly applicable for students.

A shared assumption between culturally relevant pedagogy and adult learning theory is that learners bring with them life experiences that orient them to course materials and objectives (Baumgartner, Lee, Birden, & Flowers, 2003Ladson-Billings, 2014). In other words, for Black adult learners, teaching and learning exchanges are most effective when they are connected to students’ prior knowledge, ways of knowing, and personal interests. The participants of this study recommended changes to curricular and extracurricular activities that spoke to these elements from their experiences as older high school students with life experiences and interests that shaped what they wanted to learn in school.

3. Use critical race praxis, or, as Karma says — “dig deep into their personal life.”

From an intersectional perspective, institutional racism and oppression are intensified in the schooling experiences of older Black students by segregating them into transfer schools. Transfer schools in New York City are intended to provide an opportunity for students, most of whom are Black and Latino**, to acquire requisite secondary and post-secondary skills in a rigorous and supportive environment; however, the students who attend Promise High do not have access to core academic content such as chemistry and physics, which the New York City Department of Education lists as courses students should complete to “prepare for college and careers”. Karma shared her perspective on the absence of opportunities (Jackson, 2016, p. 79):

I feel like for science…maybe you could get more lab equipment, maybe people would actually experience what science is before leaving high school. I never da — what is it? dissected a frog? I never dissected anything. But I feel like this is something I wanted to do for the simple fact that I want to do autopsies when I get older. Let me start with animals first. Like, let me see what he been eatin.

Though we laughed and those in the room who had the opportunity to dissect animals (Shaun dissected a baby pig at a previous school, and I talked about my experience dissecting a frog) said it was not enjoyable, Karma raised an important example of an opportunity gap. The education Black young adult students receive after being pushed into Promise High does not match the standard at most traditional high schools. Furthermore, the difference in curricula options for students at transfer high schools compared to their peers in traditional high schools renders invisible the role of race, gender, and age in shaping how some students are educated in certain high school spaces.

Addressing this opportunity gap from a culturally relevant, age appropriate perspective will require education leaders and policymakers to reconcile issues of interest convergence. Interest convergence is the idea that any policy or practice that appears to benefit Black people ultimately serves the interests of maintaining race-based power structures more (Bell, 1995). In this case, the separation of older students who have had academic challenges ultimately serves the needs and goals of the district itself more than the students like Amir, Evelyn, Shaun, and Monica.

If high schools and districts are truly committed to ensuring academic excellence as well as college and career readiness for older Black students, they must examine the courses offered to ensure that students planning to pursue post-secondary education will graduate high school ready for college (Knight & Marciano, 2013). Specifically for Black young adult students, the curricula and instruction should include various opportunities for students to engage in critical inquiry rooted in students’ individual learning styles, experiential knowledge, and community concerns. In that vein, schools and districts serving OA/UC student of color should use a critical race praxis, which infuses anti-racist practices with justice oriented action (Yamamoto, 1997), from an intersectional perspective to structure teaching and learning exchanges that eliminate opportunity gaps. When Karma described when she was most excited to be in school, she said:

Oh my gosh, I love my criminology teacher…she inspires me a lot…just taking her class made want to become a lawyer and if not a lawyer then a medical examiner. [I learned] many people — innocent people would go to jail [because of] the medical examiners, like, their accusations. For instance, one guy was accused of raping this girl and she — she wasn’t raped, she had a rash…And that’s what inspired me to wanna be a medical examiner.

Karma acknowledged that for her, becoming a medical examiner is an issue of justice, working to keep innocent people out of “the system.” Just as important, her experience in a criminology class (taught by a woman of color) inspired her to pursue a STEM related career. This, to me, sounds a lot like critical race praxis.

4. Respond to student voice.

Throughout my interviews with the students, they provided a sophisticated critique of the curricula, instruction, and culture of Promise High. But how could I share their brilliance with as wide an audience as possible? My approach to the study was grounded in an attempt to amplify the voice of these young people in school decision making processes once information was shared with the principal. Student voice, or students’ roles in affecting educational policies and practices through sharing what is viewed as their legitimate perspectives and recommendations (Cook-Sather, 2006), has transformative and liberatory potential to improve schools and schooling for Black students. When students are positioned as experts of their own experience, capable of articulating problems and potential solutions, students’ agency, belonging, and competence can increase (Mitra, 2004). For Promise High and other schools like it, this means that the experts, the most knowledgeable, the most advanced analysts, are sitting within your own walls. However, potential limitations to student voice were exposed in examining students’ unwillingness to share their critiques with administrators. The dilemma with student voice exposed here is that “issues of voice are…embedded in historically located structures and relations of power” (Fielding, 2004, p. 300). That is, Amir’s voice is silenced by systems in place that benefit from this silence. In light of this, it is important to expand notions of student voice and further consider the ways in which some marginalized students enact their voice; students who may not share all of their discontent with school professionals will continue to speak through their behaviors, such as waning attendance, engagement, and motivation. Therefore, we as educators must learn to listen to silence as communication when considering the role of student voice in school reform.

How Will YOU Respond?

When “overage, under-credited” Black students are relegated to transfer high schools, it is likely that their learning environment will not fully support them in achieving academically and gaining skills necessary to successfully pursue post-secondary options, including college. They are subsequently left with little if any substantive alternative to the schooling experiences they faced in traditional high schools. I believe appropriate and affirming alternatives can be fashioned to improve schooling experiences for adult Black students in transfer high schools. But how do we get there? An important first step is to listen and respond to the voices of the students in these spaces. Though Wayne was talking about a specific teacher in the quote below, his words offer a call to action that we must consider:

It’s like, I’m sitting here. I’m ready to learn. I’m calling you. But you don’t respond to me. I understand that you are helping someone else, so I’ll wait. When I see you’re available I’m gonna call you again. If you don’t come over here, then you don’t care because I’m calling for assistance.


Iesha Jackson is an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

*Names for students and the school are pseudonyms used to protect anonymity.
**This estimation is based on research of demographic information for transfer school in the city. Each transfer high schools website provides statistics of student enrollment by race according to % Black and Hispanic. Based on this data, I calculated that the average of Black and Latino students in all transfer schools in New York City is 78.4%.