Tag: Equity

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and Racial Justice Advocates Through the Years

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and Racial Justice Advocates Through the Years

Reading Time: 3 minutes

MLK quotation and nine pics of racial equity activists.

To honor Dr. King’s place in history and to acknowledge those who have worked and who continue to work toward racial justice, we are pleased to share these images of activists who inspire us. 

You will notice that some of these images are of leaders who clashed with Dr. King; others are of leaders who never met him. It is important to acknowledge the diversity of philosophies that have guided actions across the years toward the pursuit of racial justice, just as it is important to find ourselves within the legacy of struggle for civil and human rights. We have so much to learn!  Continue reading “Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and Racial Justice Advocates Through the Years”

Equity in Personalized Learning

Equity in Personalized Learning

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This summer the International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL) and CompetencyWorks invited me to the 2017 National Summit on K-12 Competency-based Education to explore personalized learning and CBE. The Summit brought together experts and leaders from across the country to focus on 4 key areas: 1) quality, 2) equity, 3) meeting students where they are, and 4) systems and policies. Continue reading “Equity in Personalized Learning”

West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity

West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity

Reading Time: 2 minutes

West Wind Education Policy and Diversity Focus announce a new partnership, The Creative Corridor Center for Equity.

We invite you to collaborate with us!

Our communities have experienced tumultuous change in the past decade as our population has diversified, we weathered the 500-year flood, and we strive to bring 21st century practices to an effective 20th century education system. The Creative Corridor Center for Equity was created to develop a systematic, collaborative approach to overcoming challenges in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor. Through partnerships that extend north to the Cedar Valley region and on to Minneapolis, MN, we expand the networks, time, talent, and treasure to support our youth here at home. Continue reading “West Wind and Diversity Focus to Partner for Educational Equity”

The Burden

The Burden

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last weekend I was reminded of the care and caution needed with raising young Black men.

My sons have been involved with a local Boy Scout troop for the last five years.  My eldest joined the scout troop at the beginning of sixth grade and my younger two sons followed suit.  Up to this point, I’ve never felt they were looked at or treated differently based on their race.  Until last Sunday. Continue reading “The Burden”

Recognizing Talent

Recognizing Talent

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This year, my youngest son was admitted into the district Extended Learning Program (ELP), a program for students identified as gifted and talented.  Almost immediately upon hearing the news, he remarked, “Wow…I’m the smartest Nyberg, besides you and Dad, of course.”  Ever since then, I’ve wondered about the messages we send students in some cases as early as second grade about talent and what it means for those who are not deemed “talented” what that may imply? Continue reading “Recognizing Talent”

Creating Risk

Creating Risk

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Minnesota state officials recently released the Minnesota Readiness Study showing that children of color and children who live in poverty are “less likely to be considered ready for kindergarten”[1] than their White and middle class counterparts.  As we try to understand, I want to focus attention on the notion of what it means to be “ready” for kindergarten.

According to a 2010 report[2] summary, the Minnesota Department of Education defines readiness as:

The skills, knowledge, behaviors, and accomplishments that children should know and be able to do as they enter kindergarten in the following areas of child development: personal and social development; language and literacy; mathematical thinking; physical development; the arts.[3]

Although I understand given the pressure to produce a highly educated and qualified citizenry that there is such emphasis of skill and knowledge development for five year olds; I do believe that these indicators, don’t tell the full story.  Not only that, but I am even more alarmed when last year’s summary goes on to “[c]onclud[e] that the result of the School Readiness Study are predictive of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) proficiency outcomes at grade three, especially in reading and math…”[4]

Essentially this report, like so many others like it, indicates that poor children and children of color not only enter school behind, but are more likely not to catch up to their White and middle class peers even by third grade.  To go further, many education reports like these and the subsequent media coverage contribute to a narrative and mental model that lead people to believe that it is the fault of the parents, the home environment, the culture, or circumstances that no one can control that leads to such disparate outcomes.  This is implied due to the emphasis that these kids are behind even before they enter school.  However, for a moment, let’s suppose we take this at face value and agree children enter into kindergarten at different levels of “readiness” in terms of their skills and knowledge.  So what?  To me, the obvious solution is to teach them the skills they need to be “ready” for kindergarten.  Is that such a radical notion?  It is true that learning accumulates with some skills building from others, but does that mean that once behind, always behind?  I would guess that in a country like our own that prides itself on upward mobility and the self-making of each citizen, the rather obvious conclusion should be no.  Yet, that’s exactly what happens.  Why?

To answer this, I go back to one of the first texts I read as a graduate student, Shirley Brice Heath’s Ways with Words (1983)[5].  She studied three communities, Roadville, a predominantly White working class community; Trackton, a predominantly Black working class community; and the Townspeople, a more racially mixed middle-class community.  She examined the orientation and use of language that each community exhibited in their day-to-day interactions amongst each other, and especially with their young children and looked at how their relationship with literacy and language related to their children’s degrees of success in school.  Heath found that each set of students entered with different relationships, understanding, skills, and knowledge of literacy and that school heavily favored the orientation and skills that the Townspeople’s children brought with them to the detriment to the other students.  It wasn’t that children from Trackton and Roadville didn’t know, but that they had different ways with words.  Specifically Heath (1983) says, “The school’s approach to reading and learning establishes decontextualized skills as foundational in the hierarchy of academic skills,” (p. 353) which indicates the need to reassess how school approaches such skills and knowledge and examines who is privileged in this process and who is marginalized.  Without this understanding and without taking the time to examine the taken-for-granted knowledge and skills teachers bring from their own homes and then perpetuate in the classroom, the achievement gap will continue to exist.  As she says,

The school is not a neutral objective arena; it is an institution which has the goal of changing people’s values, skills, and knowledge bases.  Yet some portions of the population, such as the townspeople, bring with them to school linguistic and cultural capital accumulated through hundreds of thousands of occasions for practicing the skills and espousing the values the schools transmit…

In any case, unless the boundaries between classrooms and communities can be broken, and the flow of cultural patterns between them encouraged, the schools will continue to legitimate and reproduce communities of townspeople who control and limit the potential progress of other communities and who themselves remain untouched by other values and ways of life (p. 367-369).

My point is that such reports, while sounding the alarm are indicating all the wrong sources for the achievement gap.  It is not that students enter kindergarten deficit of skills, it’s that kindergarten in its current form is not created to recognize and honor the skills children bring with them and utilize those skills as a means of learning others.  It’s a lack of knowledge, interest, and skills built into the institution itself that fails to welcome all its citizenry with the same equitable embrace as those who best exhibit the institution’s own ideologies and ways of knowing and being.  Until we change that, I believe we will continue to create risk where none actually exists.


[1] See Tom Weber, “Achievement gap exists for kids even before kindergartenMinnesota Public Radio.

[2] Due to technical errors, the report from this year is inaccessible online; therefore, I used the summaries and results from last year’s report, which makes many of the same points.

[3] See School Readiness Study Summary found HERE.

[4] Also see the School Readiness Study Summary.

[5] Heath, Ways with Words Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Thank You to All Our Para-Professionals

Thank You to All Our Para-Professionals

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last month my mother, Sherry Bozarth, retired from 18 years in the Oklahoma public school system.   She took a position in the school cafeteria when I was in junior high so that she would have the same schedule as my sister and I – and, I suspect, so that she could keep an eye on us.  After several years, she became a para-professional, a position she held for 13 years.  Para-professionals support special educational needs students in the classroom.  Over the years she worked with a broad range of students with very different needs.  And during that time, as I watched her grow within her career, I learned a lot about what it takes to offer education to all students.

I have worked with students with special educational needs as a teacher, a teacher’s assistant, and as a volunteer.  I realize that providing these students with real, meaningful educational opportunities takes a great deal of time, effort, and patience.  My mother worked year after year, taking part in professional development to keep abreast of new technologies and new pedagogical ideas, reading textbooks at home at night to make sure she had an individualized plan for her students, and standing up for the students she supported inside the classroom and within the school.  She sometimes came home from work with bruises after a child had kicked or hit her in a difficult moment; several times I watched her cry when one of her students was ill or in trouble; and many times I heard stories about students spitting on her, yelling at her, or threatening her.  But she never lost her dedication to those students and their right to an education.  She took one of her students on a field trip to a renaissance fair in a city 60 miles away, because that was his dream.  Every year she looked forward to the Special Olympics like no other person I know.  In fact, sometimes after listening to her brag about the medals her students won my sister and I wondered if we needed to explain to her how the Special Olympics really work. All Special Olympic participants receive a medal and the top three receive gold, silver, and bronze medals; my mother never included the color of the medals in her success stories.

Each day she called me on her way home from work.  Some days she was tired, but her passion for her education and her pride in the daily accomplishments of her students was always there.

It was my mother’s dream to work in the public school as an educator, so it is hardly surprising that she did so with such zeal and dedication.  And that zeal is obvious when you run into one of her students.  My mother worked in a school in a rural town of 1,000 people – the same school I attended from K-12 – so it is unavoidable that you run into her students everywhere you go.  Just yesterday she told me that one of her students saw her getting out of her car and yelled her name until she came to say hello.  She worked with one girl for several years and if you happen to see her in town she runs over and shares everything she has done since the last time she saw my mother.  These students see what I see in her and so many educators in our schools—a true love of teaching and a pride in student achievement.

My mother’s dedication to equal educational opportunities for all students is something I see in our schools a lot, but it is not something we hear about in the news lately.  Our teachers, principles and superintendents are key to strong school systems, and the support staff play an equal role.  Strong support from a school’s para-professionals often makes the difference between a child with special educational needs receiving meaningful educational opportunities and a child moving through the system without the opportunity to grow.

So thank you Mom for all your hard work.  I am proud of you.  And thank you to all the dedicated para-professionals in our schools.

Keeping the American Indian Education Truths Alive

Keeping the American Indian Education Truths Alive

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Since Osama bin Laden was killed nearly one month ago, many details about the mission have been unveiled. One particular story, which brings awareness to the “inappropriateness” of coding Osama bin Laden as “Geronimo,”[1] is a relevant and current reminder to the prevalence American Indians have as a thread of our nation.

In this way, it is important to be cognizant of American Indians, not only their revered historical figures from the past; but also their cultural traditions which struggle to be maintained and their hopes of responding to these ongoing issues today. In observing and aspiring to fully understand these issues from an education lens, it is important to not forget the past that has in part led to today’s state of American Indian education.

Currently, there are 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. [2] While the Cherokee and Navajo nations contain the majority of American Indian citizens, the myriad other tribes hold their own distinct traditional and cultural markers.  American Indian adolescents “make up only 1% of the total youth population [but] they account for 2% of the total juvenile population being held in custody and 3% of juvenile status offenders in custody.” [3] In 2003, 15 percent of Native youths 16- to 24-years old had not completed high school or earned a G.E.D. credential. This rate was more than twice the rate for white youths (6 percent), four times that of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AA/PI) (4 percent) and about the same as Black youths. Only Hispanic students dropped out at rates higher than AI/AN students.

American Indian students attend public schools, private schools, schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and tribal schools.  In the 2005–06 school year, 644,000 public elementary and secondary school students, or about 1 percent of all public school students, were American Indian or Alaska Native.  Similarly, about 1 percent of all private school students were American Indian or Alaska Native. [4] About 8 percent of American Indian students attend schools funded by the BIE.

The BIE, despite accounting for serving only a small portion of American Indian students, carries strong cultural significance. The U.S. Department of the Interior website provides a useful history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the establishment of the BIE whose mission aims to provide quality education opportunities through life in accordance with a tribe’s needs for cultural and economic well-being in order to maintain the diversity of American Indian and Alaska Native villages as distinct cultural and governmental entities:

There have been three major legislative actions that restructured the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) with regard to educating American Indians since the Snyder Act of 1921: First, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 introduced the teaching of Indian history and culture in BIA schools (until then it had been Federal policy to acculturate and assimilate Indian people by eradicating their tribal cultures through a boarding school system). Second, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 93-638) gave authority to federally recognized tribes to contract with the BIA for the operation of Bureau-funded schools and to determine education programs suitable for their children. The Education Amendments Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-561) and further technical amendments (P.L. 98-511, 99-99, and 100-297) provided funds directly to tribally operated schools, empowered Indian school boards, permitted local hiring of teachers and staff, and established a direct line of authority between the Education Director and the AS-IA. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) brought additional requirements to the schools by holding them accountable for improving their students’ academic performance with the U.S. Department of Education supplemental program funds they receive through the Bureau.

Farther before the establishment of these various acts, with the installation of these boarding schools, came a very contrary notion. The founder of these schools, Richard Pratt, believed that “all the Indian there is in the [American Indian] race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” As a result, American Indians were assimilated away from their traditions using methods that have haunted them since.

Although schools have complied towards transforming this past structure into a more positive experience for American Indian students, perpetual stereotypes and myths about American Indians are persistent.

Common stereotypes are: “that American Indians are drunks, get free money from the government, are made wealthy from casino revenue…or, that Indians are at one with nature, deeply religious and wise in the ways of spirituality” [5]. In relation to these stereotypes, are myths of the American Indian.

Some examples:

1. They prefer to be called Native Americans.

2. They are given special privileges.

3. They are a dying race.

4. They are easily identifiable.

5. They all live on a reservation.

6. They are born knowing their culture and heritage.

7. They feel honored by mascots. [6] The American Indian Sports Team Mascots website addresses this controversy; as does the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media.

Suggestions to overcoming these common but misguided perceptions are to provide counterexamples that lead to knowing American Indian culture in a more positive light. This will not only allow us to interact with American Indians more appropriately, but it also will allow American Indian students to learn in a more comfortable school environment.

Going directly to the source is another way to debunk these common misconceptions. That is why collaboration and consultation with American Indian officials and individuals is often a priority recommendation for reforming education to better serve American Indians. These officials know, after all, that it is their young students that will pave the way in assuring authentic perceptions of their [diverse groups of] people:

“We must prepare them for active and equal participation in the global market. We must prepare them to be citizens in the 21st century. We must prepare them to be positive, involved members of our communities. And, most importantly, we must prepare them to be the future leaders of our governments. There is no more vital resource to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children.” [7]

In the National Congress of American Indians’ summit last December, one of the recommendations was that states should be “required to enter into collaborative agreements with tribes.” [7] This, they believe will create a more welcoming and positive environment for American Indian students in which they will be more likely to thrive.

To see more American Indian led policy recommendations, go here.


[1]The Buffalo Post. 2011 Use of Geronimo Code name to be Discussed on Capitol Hill. Retrieved from http://buffalopost.net/?p=14623

[2]Bureau of Indian Affairs, http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/index.htm

[3] Mmari, K., Blum R., Shone-Teufel N., What Increases Risk and Protection from Delinquent Behaviors Among American Indian Youth? Findings from Three Tribal Communities, 2009,Youth & Society, Volume 41 Number 3,  March 2010 pg 382-413.

[4] Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008. Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaskan Natives: 2008. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008084

[5] Fleming, Walter C. (2006, November). Myths and Stereotypes About Native Americans. Phi Deltan Kappan, 88, 213-216.

[6] Ibid.

[7] National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Education Association. National Priorities for Indian Education. Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/18/NCAI_NIEA_jointESEAreauth.pdf

[8] National Congress of American Indians, 2010 Education: 2010

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