One of the most difficult things to do as an educator, Sarah Braff said, is to recognize the limits of one’s own perspectives.
The president of the local Classroom Teachers Association announced this month that the Santa Monica-Malibu school district was one of four districts in the state chosen to conduct a pilot training program on bias.
“Teachers all want to think they’re open-minded,” Braff said at the Board of Education meeting March 3. “Where and how they were raised might affect whether they have a facility for the cultures of others. … We need to meet kids where they are, not where we’d like them to be or where we think they should be.”
The California Teachers Association has been working to address issues around bias, holding several talks and workshops on the matter since the start of the school year.
Braff’s announcement about upcoming training comes as SMMUSD attempts to close longstanding academic achievement gaps that exist between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers.
On the recently implemented California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests, pass rates in English ranged from 45 percent for African-American students and 48 percent for Hispanic students to 78 percent for white students and 83 percent for Asians. Similarly, just 30 percent of black SMMUSD test-takers and 33 percent of Latino students met or exceeded standards in math, while white and Asian students’ rates reached 69 percent and 77 percent, respectively.
“Clearly, in the last 27 years, we haven’t succeeded in bridging the gap, so clearly we’re doing something wrong,” Braff told the school board.
The district recently hired renowned sociologist Pedro Noguera to analyze equity and access problems and come up with solutions to help educators improve outcomes for historically underperforming students. Noguera, an education professor at UCLA and director of the university’s Center for the Study of School Transformation, is expected to report his findings to the board in the coming weeks.
Braff said the bias training will supplement Noguera’s work. She said the local workshops will initially be geared toward district administrators and union leaders but added that it will eventually roll out at individual school sites.
“It’s going to raise difficult questions that we’re going to have to be brave enough to face up to,” Braff said. “It’s not going to be an easy process. The more we learn, the more we’re going to question how things are going.”
Braff said the training would include two intensive days of learning and discussion as well as monthly meetings and ensuing sessions to develop and talk about classroom strategies.
Board member Craig Foster voiced support for the bias training. He and other board members have had ample dialogue about closing the achievement gap in recent months.
Recently, officials at Santa Monica High School increased participation in Advanced Placement classes among minority and low-income students by identifying and reaching out to students who demonstrated they were capable of handling the rigorous coursework.