Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, a majority white district with about 12,500 students, has been doing racial equity work with Glenn Singleton’s Pacific Education Group for more than a decade. He cites it as one of PEG’s successes.
The ultimate impact on students remains elusive. African American students there pass state reading and math exams at about the same rate as counterparts in CMS – in both cases, well below rates for white and Asian students. In Chapel Hill as in Charlotte, black students are far more likely to be suspended than white ones.
Student equity director Graig Meyer said the anti-racism discussions didn’t go over well with some board members, teachers, principals and parents.
“Calling a white person a racist is like the worst thing you can do in the white culture,” said Meyer, who is white. Some teachers felt persecuted and left, he said. But most learned to talk about better ways to reach their students, he said: “It gave us a way to navigate this incredibly difficult issue.”
Because nonwhite students were underrepresented in advanced classes, the district removed a requirement that students get a teacher recommendation to enroll. A student diversity group also came up with recommendations for reaching students of color, based on the practices of their best teachers. Among them: Acknowledge that racism exists.
Over the past five years, CHCCS has spent about $64,500 on PEG, with annual bills ranging from $8,200 to $22,615.
Portland Public Schools have been working with PEG for five years. It’s a district of about 47,000 students with a dwindling white majority. The district’s web site is translated into Chinese, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Much of Portland’s work has taken place at the board level, says Superintendent Carole Smith. In 2011 the board passed a racial equity policy that cites the gaps between white and minority students and states: “The responsibility for the disparities among our young people rests with adults, not the children.” It lays out plans for closing those gaps, including: “All staff and students shall be given the opportunity to understand racial identity, and the impact of their own racial identity on themselves and others.”
The group’s “Courageous Conversations” training has reached teachers, principals, bus drivers, custodians and parents – and sparked debate, locally and nationally.
Critics have seized on what they see as extremes, such as one principal’s comments that a lesson plan mentioning a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might not be culturally sensitive to children who eat other foods at home. References to the “racist sandwich” exploded on blogs, columns and social media.
Superintendents who work with PEG understand it’s risky to their careers, Smith said: “It can be the thing that gets you gone.”
But Smith, superintendent for five years, says she believes the PEG work has contributed to gains for all students and been “a unifying districtwide culture-changing conversation.”
The district is spending about $189,000 on PEG this year.