School boards have been confronted in recent months by members of the public and the press asking about critical race theory (CRT) and public schools. Educational equity also has become part of the discussion. Here is some information designed to help you answer questions you might receive on this issue. Understanding these terms, and helping your community understand them, are essential.

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory (CRT) is a framework of legal and academic topics that examine social, cultural, and legal issues related to race and racism. It is primarily used in university-level courses. CRT says that race is not biological but is a socially constructed idea. Originating in the 1970s, CRT was first used to help law students think critically about the impact of historical and present-day racism on the legal system. In the 1990s, some colleges of education also started incorporating CRT into their coursework to help aspiring school administrators and teachers better understand inequities in the context of education.

CRT is not educational equity

CRT and educational equity are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. The term “critical race theory” is being inaccurately used by some to encompass a wide range of topics, including educational equity, social-emotional learning (SEL), cultural awareness, and restorative justice practices. It also is being used to describe discussions of racism in classroom instruction. Working toward student achievement and excellent outcomes for all students is the essential work of school boards. Approaches to equity will be different in every district, but the goal is the same: excellent outcomes for all students.

What is educational equity?

Educational equity means that students have access to the resources they need at the right moment in their education, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, language, religion, or family background.

How is educational equity different from CRT?

Educational equity is a K-12 term referring to federal and state policies and requirements. The term is closely associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation led by former President George W. Bush and signed into law in 2002. In recent years, the terms equity work or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become commonplace in K-12 education, as many districts revisit and renew their local efforts to close achievement gaps as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). When signed into law in 2015, ESSA further advanced equity by upholding protections outlined in NCLB. At the same time, it granted flexibility to states in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans designed to close achievement gaps, increase equity, improve the quality of instruction, and increase outcomes for all students. Approaches to equity will differ in every district, but the goal is the same: excellent outcomes for all students.

How do you handle protests or potential disruptions at meetings over CRT?

Board members and administrators should arm themselves with information about their district’s educational equity efforts. Start by listening to speakers respectfully and attentively. Ask what they mean when they refer to the broad concept of critical race theory. Ask what their exact concerns are within the district or their children’s school. Calmly correct misinformation and delineate what your local school district is or isn’t doing in contrast to what a larger national narrative may be suggesting. Protesters disrupting meetings should not be permitted. Consult with your school board lawyer or your state association legal team about enforcing policies on public participation at board meetings.

Does your curriculum include discussions about racism?

Curriculum decisions are made at the state and local levels, and the community should have access to what’s being taught in their schools. However, teaching social studies and history will at times require discussions about historic instances of racism. This, in turn, often prompts student questions and requests for additional discussion on how some elements of history continue to play out in our communities. Let your teachers know you support them in having these conversations in the classroom as part of an educational discussion.

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