The Common Core, Pre-Reading, and Equity

Our Curriculum Developer Zaretta Hammond co-authored an article for the new issue of Phi Delta Kappan titled “Text and Truth: Reading, student experience, and the Common Core” (requires subscription).

Zaretta and her co-author Susan Sandler write that the Common Core State Standards do not, as some have said, ban the technique known as prereading. On the contrary, the Common Core heightens the importance of strategically leveraging existing knowledge in creating new knowledge.

This is important for equity. The authors describe the “powerful utility of students’ prior knowledge” as illustrated by students at an underachieving urban high school who developed a strong mastery of literary analysis and reasoning through “a culturally responsive scaffolding technique called cultural modeling,” developed by Carol D. Lee. Lee’s strategies are quite similar to the higher-order strategies built into the Common Core. Her students began by reading popular texts (music, film) for literary strategies such as satire and symbolism, and developed analytical habits of mind. They moved on to complex texts, such as Toni Morrison novels, whose social codes and contexts were still familiar to them. By the end of the year, they were confidently reading and analyizing Dante and Shakespeare.

It is Lee’s contention that the “achievement gap is, at least in part, influenced by the limitations of the knowledge base and assumptions that inform decisions about curriculum, assessment, pedagogy, teacher credentialing, and the conditions under which teachers work.”  Hammond and Sandler write:

If the misinterpretation of the Common Core guidance among principals, coaches,  curriculum specialists, and others is allowed to ossify, and teachers internalize the idea that students’ prior knowledge doesn’t count, students themselves will get the same message loud and clear… Students living in poverty and students in underserved racial groups already receive so many messages that academic success is not for them. If they come to believe that academic learning has no connection to their lives, then learning will become less relevant and interesting, with a corresponding loss of motivation to do the hard work of mastering challenging skills.

“If,” they conclude, “education is a construction project — a structure being built piece by piece as we help students learn new things and fit them together — then the foundation of student knowledge underneath holds it all up.”

Posted in achievement gap, Bias, Changing the Discourse, Effective Teaching, Equity Pedagogy, National Equity Project, school reform, student engagement | Leave a comment

Hugh Vasquez on Internalized Oppression

National Equity Project Senior Associate Hugh Vasquez will join the radio program A Safe Place to Talk About Race on Monday, November 5, at 4pm EST, 1pm PST. The program streams live online via the VoiceAmerica Variety Channel.

Episode description: When People of Color Turn to Self Hate
Where does self-hate about a person’s own ‘race’ or culture come from? Must People of Color assimilate into Whiteness in looks, speech, and mannerisms to be acceptable? How does this idea of ‘Whiteness is rightness’ get attached self identify? What are some of the signs that self-hate has become, at times, popular and a way of life within a person or a group? What behaviors show up? Violence? Low test scores? Next job promotion? Is it destructive or a path to economic and social success? Are children affected?

The Clark Doll Experiment of 1939 was repeated in 2005 with almost the same results that well over half of the Children of Color chose White as meaning nice, and being Black as unacceptable. Are there ways to disrupt this pattern or feeling? Join Hugh Vasquez, a leading top diversity educator, consultant, guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and author to find out what self-hate, or internalized racism, really is, where it comes from, and some way to disrupt and heal from it.

Tune in live, or if you miss it we’ll try to post the podcast. If you have questions or would like to join the discussion, call in at 1.866.472.5788 or tweet @asafeplace2talk.

Posted in Bias, Internalized Oppression, racial equity, Structural Racism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Teacher of the Year testimony

I’Asha Warfield was named one of two Teachers of the Year for Alameda County California, encompassing 23 districts serving over 200,000 students, 40% of them low-income.

She is an English teacher at Frick Middle School in Oakland Unified. She worked with us as a member of the school’s Partnerships for Learning inquiry team, and attended our Coaching for Equity Institute this year.

I asked her how the National Equity Project coaching had helped her: 

Dear Chris,
I learned so much from the Coaching for Equity Institute. It helped me to rekindle why I became a teacher in the first place. Somewhere along the way I lost a bit of the passion I once had. While I grew in the science and practice of teaching, I misplaced my reason for being involved in the work. Viewing education through the lens of equity reminded me of how incredibly important this work is. There are social, economic and cultural consequences for the work we do and the structures we too often maintain (or re-establish).

It’s been challenging coaching this year. My role has shifted as I work with teachers to create more equitable classrooms. That’s tough. What keeps me believing that the work I’m doing as a coach is important is what I learned at the CFE institute. Since the institute, I continue to return to this resolve: my role in education is to “disrupt predictable outcomes.” As a coach, I can cause these disruptions to occur at my school. I remind myself of this charge when I feel myself growing complacent and find it easier to maintain business as usual without conflict or discomfort.

I look forward to more of your institutes. I definitely need a refresher.

Here is a short video of I’Asha talking about the award:

Posted in Coaching, Equity Pedagogy, Leadership, Learning Partnerships, school coaching, school improvement, student engagement | Leave a comment

Equitable Turnaround Approaches

A new report on turnaround schools came through our in box last week, representing a welcome alternative view of leadership and change to the dominant approaches in the education system that aligns with National Equity Project approaches. 

First, the dominant approach to improving schools might be encapsulated in a practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse of the Department of Education, Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools:

1. Signal the need for dramatic change with strong leadership… make a clear commitment to dramatic changes from the status quo…[the school] does not have the luxury of years to implement incremental reforms.
2. Maintain a consistent focus on improving instruction… use data to set goals for instructional improvement… continually reassess student learning and instructional practices to refocus the goals.
3. Make visible improvements early in the school turnaround process (quick wins).
4. Build a committed staff… may require changes in staff, such as releasing, replacing, or redeploying staff who are not fully committed…

These familiar recommendations might be called the urgency and accountability approach, informed by a traditional top-down model of leadership as rallying staff and holding them accountable.  It is understandable: we all want substantial changes in the quality of education for underserved students immediately, not some day.

The other approach might be called the ‘go slower to go far’ approach, from the African proverb that goes “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” This view is also deeply concerned with impact for and on students, and aspires to changes that are sustainable, indeed self-sustaining.

A new study finds that current school turnaround policies are “more likely to cause upheaval than to help.”  The new report, “Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence,” by Tina Trujillo at UC Berkeley and Michelle Renée of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown suggests that a collaborative, community-driven approach combined with significant, sustained financial investment and a focus on teaching and learning has been proven to be the better path to school improvement.

The federal turnaround grants are largely grounded in the firing and replacement of school staff. Because the nation’s lowest performing schools are also the hardest to staff, such approaches have an inherent logistical problem: finding the better-qualified personnel to refill vacant slots in turnaround schools. There are no lines of teacher candidates who excel at teaching low-income students of color waiting outside district offices.

The new report also points out what is missing. While many experts consider community engagement critical for turnarounds to succeed, federal and state policymakers have rarely involved the public in the turnaround process.  Indeed, without community leadership, there is no consistent local counterweight to the frequent churn in leadership and policies in urban school districts.

The problem of inequity in the education system is a complex one, and cannot be solved with simple solutions. However, it can be solved.  Educators and other leaders can learn to be more collaborative and build relationships and systems in their school districts for providing quality instruction and other needed services. And we can help with that.

Posted in achievement gap, Leadership, Relationships, school reform | Leave a comment

A Few Ways to Build Student-Teacher Rapport

 “Trust between teachers and students is the affective glue that binds educational relationships together.  Not trusting teachers has several consequences for students. They are unwilling to submit themselves to the perilous uncertainties of new learning. They avoid risk. They keep their most deeply felt concerns private. They view with cynical reserve the exhortations and instructions of teachers.”  – Stephen Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher

Student-teacher rapport forms the “affective glue” at the core of building a learning partnership. Establishing rapport with students and your classroom community creates a positive, trusting learning environment – helping students lower their guard and be less defensive. Knowing your students well is especially important with struggling students who may try to cover up their academic challenges by acting out or trying to be invisible during class.

Many of us are able to quickly build rapport with people we meet in our day-to-day lives. Click: The Magic of Instant Connection describes 5 catalysts for building rapport:

  • Sharing appropriate personal information about universal experiences such as embarrassing moments, challenges
  • Eye contact
  • Showing one’s emotions to another
  • Remembering special events, etc.


  • Facial familiarity (“I’ve seen you before…)
  • Live and/or work near each other


  • Active listening
  • Giving one’s undivided attention (no multi-tasking)
  • Responding to unspoken needs/anticipating needs (“Would you like something to drink?”)
  • Mirroring non-verbal body language


  • Finding common ground
  • Creating an “in-group of two” through shared hobbies, favorite sports team, etc.

Shared Community

  • Shared affinity (i.e., being one of few females in a male dominated discipline)
  • Identifying a shared adversary or cause

Establishing positive rapport is especially crucial in these early weeks of the school year. Make an effort to build an authentic personal connection with each of your students, and keep it up every day, in or out of class, regardless of the challenges that may arise within or outside the classroom.  

Posted in Changing the Discourse, Effective Teaching, Emotional Intelligence, Equity Pedagogy, Learning Partnerships, National Equity Project, Relationships, Schools | 1 Comment

5 Ways to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom

The National Equity Project has a new website, and a new blog! Most of our blog content lives there now. You can find this post: 5 Ways to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom now!

Visit us at and subscribe to our newsletter. We won’t be updating this blog site for the foreseeable future.

You can also engage with us on Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


“All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is: to which culture is it currently oriented?” – Gloria Ladson-Billings

Posted in Conferences & Events, Effective Teaching, Equity Pedagogy, Learning Partnerships, Relationships, school improvement, Schools, student engagement | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Confronting Systemic Inequity in Education

That’s the title of a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). It’s written for foundations but has insights and data that are useful for other equity workers.  (The PDF is free, the fee is for the printed report.)  The report urges foundations to support advocacy and organizing work to address systemic issues as opposed to only serving immediate needs through programs that leave the larger system intact.

The report takes a view of education as a complex system:

 The intersection of forces around a particular issue shapes the zone of mediation for that issue. Such forces may include such far-reaching items as legislation, judicial decisions, demographics, housing and nutritional needs, economic and market forces, social/state political climates, educational influence groups, district history, individual players within districts, their political ambitions and the media.  One such potential force is foundation support.

And uses the framework of “targeted universalism” as a way to focus support to make more substantive systems changes to deeply entrenched inequities.

The report relates a story from 2010 about a student at the elite, admissions-based public magnet school Hunter College High School in NYC named Justin Hudson who “shocked his classmates and many in the audience with a candid graduation speech about educational inequity that hit close to home”:

He opened his remarks by praising the school and explaining how appreciative he was to have made it to that moment. … [Then he said,] “More than anything else, I feel guilty … I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you.” They had been labeled “gifted,” he told them, based on a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance.” Beneficiaries of advantages, they were disproportionately from middle-class Asian and white neighborhoods known for good schools and the prevalence of tutoring. “If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city,” he said, “then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights. And I refuse to accept that.”

He went on to say that “We received an outstanding education at no charge based solely on our performance on a test we took when we were eleven-year-olds.” What Justin and the systems approach in the NCRP report call into question is the primacy of meritocracy and individualism on which much of our school system is built.

The notion of the “achievement gap” remains in this individualistic mode, encouraging programs that raise the achievement of individual students, rather than addressing the opportunity gaps that underlie achievement. The report also cites the notion of “education debt” offered by Gloria Ladson-Billings

These inequalities have accumulated over the nation’s history and have prompted education expert Gloria Ladson-Billings to advocate for redefining the achievement gap as an education debt owed to communities that endured these hardships: “When we think of what we are combating as an achievement gap, we implicitly place the onus for closing that gap on the students, their families and their individual teachers and schools. But the notion of education debt requires us to think about how all of us, as members of a democratic society, are implicated in creating these achievement disparities.”

This stance is one that recognizes our shared fate, our common humanity, community, and destiny.  Transformative leaders can foster a sense of shared fate to enable people to face complex challenges together.

Posted in Bias, Changing the Discourse, Structural Racism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

25 Handy Words We Need In Schools

You may have already seen this post, 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English. It looks like it’s been culled from Christopher Moore’s In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World.  Reading the list, I couldn’t help but think how helpful some of these words might be in our work in schools and communities.  Namely:

Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

Supporting leaders to develop emotional intelligence is a huge part of our work (see blog post Emotional Intelligence and School Leadership).  Imagine if we could just tell a principal she needs to work on her nunchi… and she actually knew what we were talking about!  It literally means “eye measure” and “is a kind of antenna one has to sense another’s feelings or state of mind.”


 Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)


I’m going out on a limb here, comparing National Equity Project coaches to MacGyver.  But our work often involves supporting our partners to desenrascar conditions in their school or district.  This is no simple fix, but instead involves following entangled trails of distrust and disempowerment to get down to the root causes that limit a school or district’s success. Surfacing root causes helps identify “the points of greatest leverage: the places where the least amount of effort provides the greatest influence for change.” (For more on root causes, see Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn). 


Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Most Americans would say they agree with the statement “All children, regardless of race or social background, are capable of learning.”  But much of our work involves unpacking whether a person tatamae (pretends to believe) in educational equity, or honne (actually believes).  It’s not always obvious to the person, but if they only tatamae, it will be obvious in their language and actions.  We see this all the time.

The good news is that when people only “pretend to believe” in equity, we can still guide them toward creating systems and structures that create more equitable conditions and outcomes.  Once they see that equity is possible, they can actually believe in it.


Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Alone in the WoodsTeaching is often described as an isolating profession.  Teachers are surrounded by students in their classrooms, but most schools lack adequate collaborative structures. Professional learning communities give teachers a chance to learn from and with each other  to continuously improve their teaching practice.  They also help teachers fight the waldeinsamkeit. 


Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

Finally, we envision schools and communities lead by people full of meraki.  We work to create humanizing structures that enable and encourage people to bring their full self into their schools.  Almost every educator has meraki but not every system is designed for it.

Meraki - Soul

Posted in Changing the Discourse, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Moral Imperative: With the Kellogg Foundation Learning Labs in Mississippi

The Learning Labs is a national movement to radically improve early learning (birth to age 5) for all children in the United States. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the movement consists of a partnership of innovative state-level early learning agencies located in Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Washington State. From May 7-9, 2012, a team of five National Equity Project staff facilitated a Learning Lab Network conference with Kellogg Foundation program leaders in Mississippi, hosting over 80 education leaders from across the country.

The conference led off with a tour of the site of the infamous murders of three civil rights workers in 1964 that was described in the film Mississippi Burning.

In the second day, in addition to sessions for state-based teams, our staff and others facilitated breakout sessions on core learning areas:

  • High-Quality Learning Environments: Job-Embedded Professional Development 
  • Public Will Building: A Voice and a Movement 
  • Family and Community Engagement: Connecting at the Roots 
  • School Success: Assessment and Alignment 
  • Policies and Frameworks: An In-Depth Look

The civil rights tour was profoundly moving and set the historical and moral context of the more practical work that followed.  As equity leaders in education, we need to keep our moral imperative front and center in our work.  The moral imperative of education is not to (merely) raise achievement.  It is, in the words of NYU Professor and our advisory board member Dr. Pedro Noguera, the keynote speaker at the conference, to “prepare young people to make the world better than it is.”

Posted in achievement gap, Changing the Discourse, Conferences & Events, National Equity Project, racial equity, Structural Racism | Leave a comment

Pay Now or Pay Much More Later

Last week a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later,” a report on proposed cuts in California to early childhood education.  Research supports the idea that the less we invest in early education in vulnerable communities, the more young people will end up in the mass incarceration system described by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow.

“The Governor’s proposed 2012-2013 budget would cut preschool spending by $180 million by eliminating 17,000 slots for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds and reducing per student funding, after $70 million and another 17,000 slots were already cut in 2011.  In the nine-county Bay Area, up to $155 million in proposed preschool and transitional kindergarten cuts would impact up to 24,000 children.”

Here is a chart that speaks a thousand words on our state’s priorities. Police chiefs and district attorneys started the organization that put out this report – not just educators, the police are asking the state not to cut early ed funding.   






There are proposed cuts to K-12 education overall. At nearby San Leandro High, three student went on a hunger strike this month to voice their opposition to budget cuts: “The seniors started the strike the day after the school board approved $1.4 million in cuts.  The district also has a contingency budget to slash an additional $2.5 million if voters in November do not approve a state tax measure that would bolster school funding.  That contingency plan would further reduce staff and eliminate sports and music programs, among other cuts.” [Oakland Tribune]

Prisoners in California have also been hunger striking to protest inhumane prison conditions.

Posted in Education Funding, Uncategorized | Leave a comment