A Shelby County Schools (SCS) equity audit revealed that Black students had higher graduation rates than their White and Hispanic peers for the past three years. Even when broken down by gender, both Black males and females graduated at higher rates than their White and Hispanic counterparts, respectively. The Shelby County Board of Education reviewed this information on Tuesday. The University of Memphis’ Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREC) conducted the audit, relying on data from SCS and the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE).
SCS Equity Officer Michael Lowe gave a presentation on the audit during the Tuesday board meeting. He noted that SCS didn’t actually receive the white paper of the entire audit report. Instead, the presentation was based on CREC’s executive summary of the report. The Tennessee Star requested the full audit report from Shelby County Board of Education Chair Miska Clay Bibbs. She didn’t respond by press time.
According to Lowe, Bibbs and board member Stephanie Love requested the audit. As The Star reported, Love introduced a proposal earlier this year to expand African-American Studies K-12 curriculum to counter the “continuous and systemic murder of African-Americans” by police. The board approved the resolution, meaning the SCS superintendent has until June to provide a curriculum expansion plan.
Sandwiched between slides on race and gender-based graduation rates and the purposes of the audit was a slide referencing how 8,000 White students departed from the school district in the 1970s. Lowe didn’t expand on the relationship between that information and the audit report.
The higher graduation rates of Black students didn’t make it into the highlights at the end of the presentation.
Instead, SCS slides emphasized data like the likelihood of Black students to have the lowest grades in ELA, math, science, and social studies subjects, as compared to Hispanic or White students. The highlights also emphasized that White students were more likely than Black and Hispanic students to have the highest grades in each subject throughout all three years.
After Lowe finished the presentation, Love asked what the next steps would look like based on the data.
Dr. Angela Whitelaw, SCS Deputy Superintendent of Schools and Academic Support, responded that this audit was just the first step to figuring out what actions should be taken.
No plan of action or next steps were offered.
The equity audit was requested to assist the SCS Office of Equity and Access. The office suggests educator resources that deal with antiracism, implicit bias, and systemic oppression. One resource is titled “Principals, if you don’t include questions about race, class, and privilege during your interviews, you are failing.”
The express goals for the office are: reducing punishments like suspensions and expulsions among Black students, increasing the percentage of Black students who score 21 or higher on the ACT; increasing the use of progressive discipline practices; defining equity and enacting a policy on it; establishing equity institute to train all educators to interrupt patterns of implicit bias, social inequality, and oppression; and retain 100 percent of Black K-5 educators, and increase their number.
According to the SCS board, the audit summary will be discussed in their next few meetings as well.
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