The Wake County Board of Education, often perceived as lacking in public interest, hosted a working session on Oct. 3, 2023, which centered on the topic of equity. This session consisted of two distinct presentation parts: excellence and equity — both described as “integral” to Wake County’s ongoing strategic efforts to mitigate the learning losses arising from COVID-19 policies. DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs are increasingly found to be ineffective, and the information presented in the two sessions was a further reinforcement of that fact.
The presentation on excellence meticulously dissected various goals and metrics within Wake County’s strategic education plan.
· Goal 1 aimed to attain a 98% graduation rate, a significant leap from the current 89.9%;
· Goal 2 set its sights on a 90% proficiency rate by 2028, an ambitious target given the current rate of 63.4%;
· Goal 3 sought to have 90% of schools surpass the state average in growth, highlighting progress but also underscoring significant disparities among subgroups;
· Goal 4 addressed the pivotal issue of attendance, given the surge in student absences post-pandemic;
· Goal 5 stressed the importance of evaluating students’ behavioral health; and
· Goal 6 emphasized family and parental engagement.
The use of surveys played a pivotal role in this context, including the Family Engagement Survey (with an impressive 23,500 responses), the School Climate Survey (with a goal of 95% completion), and the development of an Employee Experience Survey.
In contrast, the presentation on equity took a different path. It avoided metrics, goals, and surveys in favor of emphasizing the imperative to “transform systems” and eradicate disparities, especially in the realm of equity, as it was stated that “equity work is part of everything.”
Of course, no specific system was identified; rather it is the system as a whole that must be changed. This metaphysical approach underscored the need for “alignment with [equity] policy” and integrating equity into the very fabric of the district. It highlighted the significance of “all educators” comprehending and adhering to the equity policy. The DEI team emphasized a multi-year approach to build across all levels to make equity the foundational principle of education. They underscored that this work demands a systematic and methodical approach that acknowledges historical “barriers” and “biases.”
Furthermore, the DEI team delineated an equity roadmap based on transformational learning theory, a concept originally introduced by Jack Mezirow in the field of adult education in 1978. This theory involves the identification of assumptions, critical reflection on beliefs and actions, system redesign, and ultimate transformation. Of course, this is a never-ending process of transformation, as the aim is not to find a solution to a problem but to “move around in circles.”
A stark contrast emerged between the structure and content of the two presentations, a distinction exemplified by the accompanying visuals. While the excellence section presented concrete data, results, and expectations, the equity section relied heavily on abstract language and jargon-filled conceptual frameworks. This contrast can lead to the impression that the presentation on excellence seeks to inform decision-makers, while the presentation on equity was trying to confuse them.
But what is gained from all this “transformation” talk? During this session, board member Wing Ng raised pertinent questions about the need for change, the process of identifying areas requiring transformation, and the role of self-reflection in addressing biases. In contrast, other members — such as Monika Johnson-Hostler, Tara Waters, and Tyler Swanson — appeared dismissive of these questions, giggling and scoffing among themselves like school children. Naturally, the response provided was deemed meaningless. The presenters emphasized the importance of using “critical reflection” to identify disparities and challenge beliefs.
The reality is that there is a lack of substance in DEI assessments, equity frameworks, and transformational learning theory. We should critically reflect on whether such concepts are needed in our schools and transform accordingly.