More than a third of high school students in the US report experiencing racism in their schools. Students of color get overlooked for gifted programs and receive more suspensions than their peers. To begin addressing these inequities, schools and districts can implement racial justice initiatives in schools.
Educators at every level can benefit from a host of resources that advance racial justice in schools.
Racial Justice in Education
Racial justice in education seeks to understand racism and inequities in educational systems and give all students equitable opportunities to develop and learn.
Educators can help achieve racial justice by dismantling biased curriculums, classroom management practices, and school policies that can block students of color from accessing a fair and equitable education. This involves:
- Identifying racial inequities
- Taking corrective action
For example, a school district may examine its selection methods for gifted programs and discover practices that have led to the underrepresentation of students of color. Or school leaders may review discipline policies and discover why their students of color are receiving harsher punishments than peers for the same infractions.
Through this process of identifying issues and possible corrective actions, educators can develop targeted strategies that build educational equity.
Examples of Racial Justice Initiatives in Education
Educational initiatives—focused programs designed to tackle challenges or achieve specific goals in education—can play a key role in promoting racial justice. First, they help build awareness of inequities in schools, such as systemic racism and implicit bias. This lifts up the entire community.
Additionally, racial justice initiatives help instill a mindset that empowers teachers and school leaders to become anti-racist educators. Such initiatives also support educators who are breaking down racist ideas and developing a critical consciousness in themselves and their students. Critical consciousness, the ability to recognize and question racial oppression and commit to fighting against it, benefits educators and can help motivate students of color to succeed academically.
Finally, racial justice initiatives can connect school communities to anti-racist resources and tools. These initiatives also facilitate culturally responsive teaching, which affirms the value of all students by incorporating their diverse cultures and experiences into lesson plans.
Some topics addressed in racial justice initiatives include:
Telling the stories and celebrating the contributions of people of color helps break down racism.
Teaching Black history, for example, challenges racist narratives and attitudes that perpetuate false stereotypes. Exploring Black lives and experiences also gives students historical context for current issues, helping them bridge connections between past and present.
How educators teach Black history matters. Teachers can celebrate successes and important movements in Black history. Additionally, to give students complete and accurate portrayals of Black peoples’ experiences, educators need to make sure curricula include discussion of landmark events and consequential ideas.
For example, school districts across the country can develop curricula that include the success story of Black Wall Street, one of the first thriving Black-owned business hubs in the US. Likewise, educators can make sure their curricula covers the tragic Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, when white mobs burned down Black Wall Street, murdering 300 Black residents and injuring countless others.
Educators can continue to embrace curricula that cover the entirety of Black history, and the entirety of Indigenous, Asian American, and Latinx histories as well. Learning diverse histories helps students paint a more complete picture of history as a whole. It also contributes to developing more empathy, understanding, and admiration for people from various backgrounds and experiences.
White privilege speaks to the automatic advantages white people experience, regardless of their efforts or income level, living in a society in which their race is not marginalized. This means white people, usually unconsciously, enjoy benefits and choices not afforded to people of color.
For example, ingrained biases have led to mortgage lenders denying loans or charging significantly higher interest rates to people of color.
Such advantages compound, resulting in fewer barriers across various aspects of white people’s lives. In the same vein, the disadvantages people of color experience simply because of their race also compound, creating added limitations and struggles.
Education about white privilege can help students perceive the implications of a longstanding reality in the US. Gaining insight into white privilege empowers students to take purposeful action toward racial justice.
Educators work with students from diverse backgrounds. Each student has a range of identities, visible and invisible. For example, teachers can see a Muslim student’s hijab, but they can’t necessarily see that that student has a neurodivergence.
Intersectionality recognizes that no person has a one-dimensional identity. Every individual has layers to their identity. For instance, a student may be a Black cisgender female who is an immigrant. These various layers of students’ identities will affect and shape their experiences.
How a person’s multiple identities impact their experiences will partly depend on unjust and ingrained systems that give power and privilege to some people and marginalize others based on factors such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Recognizing intersectionality in education can help rid classrooms of such unfair imbalances.
Racial justice in schools depends on educators thoughtfully creating space for students’ multiple identities and supporting those identities. This involves first understanding that people’s race, gender, ability, ethnicity, and so on, are all interconnected, and together they uniquely shape a person’s experiences.
Educators can implement teaching practices and develop curriculums that take into account their students’ identities and experiences. For example, educators can make sure the voices represented in readings and examples used in teaching reflect their students’ identities.
Resources for Teachers
Teachers seeking to embrace anti-racism and discuss race and racial justice in their classrooms can benefit from the following resources:
Center for Racial Justice in Education, Resources includes lesson plans and reading lists on race, racial justice, immigration, racialized violence, Black history, and Indigenous history.
Learning for Justice, Race and Ethnicity is a series of webinars, activities, and blogs devoted to equipping teachers with the tools they need to discuss race in the classroom. Topics include teaching about racism and police violence.
National Association of School Psychologists, Understanding Race and Privilege offers an accessible summary of findings from school psychologists on the negative impact of racism on classroom learning.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Talking About Race provides resources for lesson plans and discussions of race-centered US history.
PBS, Racism in America offers a collection of videos and discussion prompts for teachers to view and discuss with students.
The New York Times, Resources for Teaching About Race and Racism With The New York Times delivers a regularly updated list of teaching resources for educators.
Resources for Schools
Students of all ages can learn about racial justice in developmentally appropriate ways. The following resources and toolkits can help educators and school administrators advance racial justice at individual schools:
National Education Association, Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide provides tools for assessment, strategic planning, and action related to promoting racial justice in education.
American Civil Liberties Union, Race and Inequality in Education includes a compilation and analysis of research related to racial inequality in education and provides policy guidance for making schools more equitable.
Confronting White Nationalism in Libraries: A Toolkit, designed by the Western States Center, provides school administrators and communities with the resources they need to conduct anti-racist school policy change.
California State Board of Education, Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum provides an example of an ethnic studies model curriculum applied to K-12 schools.
Resources for Districts
School district leaders, including administrators and curriculum developers, seeking to center racial justice in their schools can turn to various organizations for support.
The following organizations provide a host of resources focusing on building racial equity and justice in education:
Re-Center Race and Equity in Education is an organization that focuses on uncovering and resisting racism and oppression in K-12 education.
Education Week, “6 Ways District Leaders Can Build Racial Equity” can guide school district leaders in their efforts to challenge racism and promote racial equity.
Color of Change offers resources on the topics of race and criminal justice, economic justice, media justice, voting rights, and more.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization that champions grassroots campaigns for racial justice at the local, state, and national levels.
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, an interdisciplinary research institute, studies the root causes of racial and ethnic disparities worldwide.
Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) is a national network of local governments working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.
Equal Justice Initiative offers resources for advocating alongside communities that experience racism, poverty, and high rates of incarceration.
Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups and extremists throughout the US and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media, and the public.
Support Racial Justice in Schools
Every person in a school district —from students to teachers to administrators—has a role in advancing racial equity and inclusion. By embracing anti-racism and their responsibility to co-create equitable and inclusive educational systems, educators can help manifest racial justice in schools across the nation.