Frequently Asked Questions about Equity and Inclusion
What is critical race theory?
- Critical race theory (CRT) refers to a broad collection of legal and academic topics that examine social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism. CRT holds that race is not biological, but is a socially constructed idea.
- CRT purports that bias is embedded within our institutions, laws, and public policy. The theory posits that this embedded bias affects each of us differently and is primarily responsible for the unequal outcomes we see in systems like education, health care, etc.
- CRT is an academic theory, largely taught as a legal framework in high education, that is used to help understand why racial inequities exist in our systems and how to eliminate them.
Why are we hearing about critical race theory now?
While the academic and legal term has been around since the 1970s, the term “critical race theory” has begun to be used to challenge and critique discussions about race and raceism in schools. Many important equity initiatives that are not grounded in CRT are getting swept up in the current debate.
Within school districts in Washington state, Mercer Island included, there are many efforts to increase access to opportunities for all students to be successful and to close opportunity gaps between students by placing a greater focus on equity, initiating equity initiatives or developing an equity lens. These are not the same as critical race theory, although some of them may contain similar elements, such as analyzing a school district's policies to determine if they disproportionately impact some student groups more than others. Equity in education is about making sure our systems are set up so that all students are able to succeed and reach their full potential.
If MISD is not teaching Critical Race Theory as an adopted curriculum, then why are teachers facilitating conversations about race and racism in classes?
Race has played a powerful role in shaping and influencing the history of the United States of America. MISD is committed to teaching social studies, science, math, the arts, English, world languages, and all content areas through the lens of multiple perspectives. The purpose is not to make any student feel guilt, shame, or blame because of the past. Instead, students should feel empowered to contibute to their communities near and far in such a way that does not perpetuate the imbalance of power and privelege based on race that has been a part of the country's past.
In addition to the values of the Mercer Island School District, the District commits to facilitating learning about race and raceism to meet state standards outlined by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Though embedded in many content areas, the standards most closely align to:
- Washington State Ethnic Studies Standards
- Washington State Social Studies Standards
- Washington Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards
What about the law passed by the state Legislature? Does it mandate critical race theory be taught in our schools?
It is also important to note that the equity training required in Washington state’s SB 5044 is only about training for adults in the system, namely school board members, district and school leaders and educators. Nothing in SB 5044 mentions curriculum or lessons for students. It also does not include any mention of critical race theory or any specific curriculum for the training programs for adults.
Why is there such a big focus on “equity in education”? Shouldn’t we just treat all students equally?
Equity is about that simple and instinctive understanding that each student needs different supports, and that the same student may need extra support in one area but not in another.
School districts regularly review student outcome data to understand which students are more successful or less successful academically. District staff also review differences exist in how disciplinary actions are applied to students. Nationally and in Washington state, these gaps exist between a variety of student groups. Examples of those groups include:
- Students from low-income households
- Students with disabilities
- Students experiencing homelessness
- Students in foster care
- Students who are English-language learners
- Students of different races and/or ethnicities
The education system in the U.S. has long supported additional funding and other supports for students who have been less successful academically than others. For example, federal Title I funding is designed to support the success of students from low-income families. Another area where different types of support are provided to some students is through IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act), which is the primary funding source for supplementing local and state dollars to support the needs of students with disabilities and special education programs.
Washington state student data shows significant disparities in a variety of student outcomes, including academic assessments, student discipline, readiness for kindergarten, graduation rates, placement in advanced coursework and college attendance after graduation. When disparities are evident in the academic outcomes between groups of students, most school leaders agree that it is the moral and legal obligation of the school district to study why those gaps exist and support policies and practices that close them.