NSBA in June created the DIRE initiative to assist state school boards associations and other education leaders in addressing racial inequities. DIRE acknowledges that institutional, structural, and systemic racism has been engrained in the history of America. It is dedicated to understanding and recognizing the root causes of barriers to equitable educational outcomes for each child.
NSBA’s Chief Transformation Officer Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs spoke with Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Vail about what DIRE means for school leaders. McCotter-Jacobs was instrumental in establishing the initiative.
Why did NSBA create DIRE?As an organization that wants to ensure that public education is a great equalizer, it became evident that we had to own the fact that racism exists within the institution of public education. That is how DIRE was created.
DIRE is a bold initiative because it has allowed us the opportunity to not just talk about inequities that exist. It’s an acknowledgement and it gives us an opportunity to really think about what are the actions that we need to take. We must own that it exists in the first place and then talk about what it means to eradicate these systems and structures that continue to perpetuate inequities that play out in racist ways in our country. Public education is an institution, and it’s not excluded from institutions that show these disparities.
What are the goals of DIRE?
It’s really plain and simple: We want to eliminate institution racism. That’s a huge feat. But that’s what we want to do. Especially in public education, where we claim that education is the equalizer that sets everyone on the same footing for opportunity and access.
The goal is to raise awareness, not just talk about it but create actionable things that school boards can do to identify and eliminate institutional racism that exists in their school districts across the county.
What actions can school leaders take?Every community must look inward and define their landscape. What does education look like in your community? What does health care look like? What are the unemployment rates in your community? This action takes a holistic approach to quality-of-life issues that impact the community with a laser focus on the school board perspective on education.
Once we define the landscape, we can ask why. When we ask why, we are doing a root cause analysis of why certain groups of students are disproportionally represented in academic outcomes that are not positive.
Once we know why, it helps us get to a point where we revise our policies. Policies are never neutral. They have an impact on students one way or another. And sometimes the impact is not positive, so boards need to focus on revising the plans and policies that create the inequalities and disproportionality among groups of students.
This requires cultural competence and looking at your curriculum in a different way. But by doing so, school leaders gain a common vocabulary around racism and education equity. It allows school boards to look at the conversations in their communities in a very different way because they start from a position of acknowledging institutional racism exists in the first place.