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HGSE Conference Focuses on School Diversity

By Jill Anderson on April 20, 2017 2:40 PM
Building community and collaboration to tackle the challenging work on school diversity issues was the focus of the recent School Diversity Strategic Planning Conference held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The conference, cosponsored by HGSE’s Reimagining Integration Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES), the National Coalition on School Diversity, and The Century Foundation, continued an ongoing conversation about the best ways to work collaboratively on school diversity issues. The daylong conference attracted 42 participants, representing most of the national organizations dedicated to working on issues of school diversity, including the Equity Assistance Centers, the Civil Rights Project, Magnet Schools of America, and various university-based centers and projects.

“Over the past few years, it has been exciting to see growing attention for the issue of school integration, from locally led efforts to integrate schools to increased media attention to new research on the benefits of diversity,” said Halley Potter, senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “But in order to sustain this momentum, particularly without having much support at the federal level, we need different organizations and individuals working together — advocates, researchers, education leaders, policymakers, parents, students. This conference filled an important gap in the work on school integration by giving leaders from a variety of organizations the chance to share work and develop plans for ensuring that we are as effective as possible in working together to create more opportunities for students to learn in diverse environments.”

According to HGSE Lecturer and RIDES Founder Lee Teitel, the idea for this planning meeting grew out of the School Diversity in Action conference held in October 2016, which was hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, the Century Foundation, and the National Coalition on School Diversity. The energy and enthusiasm generated at that conference led Teitel and the planners to meet monthly to keep the momentum going.  After the election, when it seemed that the federal role in supporting school diversity might be shifting, the group set in motion the planning that led to this event at HGSE, Teitel said.

To kick off the daylong conference, Tanya Clay House, former deputy assistant secretary of P–12 at the U.S. Department of Education and current senior consultant at the Schott Foundation for Public Education, led a conversation with John King Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Obama, and current president and CEO of the Education Trust. King urged participants to figure out how to develop actionable solutions and better ways to collaborate. “We are not here to talk about and admire the problem or lament about what others are going to do or not do to address it,” said King.

Participants spent the remainder of the day working in small groups discussing six issues of school diversity, focusing on how:

  • different groups and organizations can best work together
  • local education leaders can take advantage of state policies, given the shift in federal priorities
  • schools and districts can develop strong practices for integration
  • to shape public perception of school diversity
  • to build evidence base for school integration practices
  • to create a more multi-racial ad multi-generational movement 

By the end of the day, said Teitel, the “sense of community, commitment, and collaboration in the room was high. Dozens of ideas — large and small — for follow-up were generated by the working group and shared with the entire conference with lots of enthusiasm, sense of possibility, hope, and determination.”

“I think everyone realized how essential it is for us to develop and implement coordinated plans for follow-up,” Teitel added. “We are doing that now, with the planning group going through the suggestions, looking for short-term and long-term possibilities and staying in close touch with the participants as we move forward. We all know the work is too important to do anything else.”