Historic K-12 inequities are by design, some schools have remodeled.

Keary W. Saffold, M.Ed. Founder and CEO of KWST Behavioral Development Group, gives insight on the poor standards set for some students and how we can all be part of the solution… 


When it comes to K-12 education, there are no mistakes – only standards. The system, achieving what it was designed to do, isn’t rooted in equity. Historically, few Black and Brown students have positive experiences and outcomes.

Students of color aren’t failing; rather, too many schools fail to meet their academic, social emotional and cultural needs.

The New York Times recently shed light on disciplinary data (see ‘Why Are Black Students Punished So Often? Minnesota Confronts a National Quandary‘), which caused me to appreciate attention to issue and re-energizes my hope that others may join to rectify it. When disproportionate data based on racial inequities is highlighted, it forces schools into necessary levels of transparency. A transparency that should fuel accountability and change. If we take the original design of the system into consideration, it should also eliminate confusion.

The article states, last year in Minneapolis Public Schools, Black students made up 76% of the suspensions, yet represented 41% of enrollment. It goes on to say the district suspends black students at disproportionate rates than white students and “that it is struggling to figure out why.”

This problem, not unique to schools in Minneapolis, is explicit bias and implicit bias. Therefore, we know why and we know what to do differently – and some schools have delivered. We know what it takes for all students to reach their full potential: positive student-teacher relationships; relevant instruction, authentic parent engagement, and teachers who articulate a culturally responsive belief system that promotes student progress throughout the year.

Disciplinary data reflects the standards set for Black and Brown students, with its roots planted deep in bias and injustice.

While there’s a pattern of well-intentioned efforts to disrupt the status quo and build more equitable schools, there are systemic barriers and even political roadblocks that slow progress. When Minnesota received a waiver from No Child Left Behind, our state committed to closing our nation-trailing gaps in half by 2017. Some areas have improved because of collaborative community efforts, but most of these gaps really haven’t closed. The severity of the inequities in K-12 (discipline, academic, funding) are intertwined and should prompt advocacy with a sense of urgency to seek resolutions.

-Are schools positioning students for success when so many students of color spend their days suspended or expelled?

-Why do we continue to have an over-representation of these same students receiving the subjective label of emotional or behavioral disorders, and an under-representation of them in gifted and talented programs?

-When will we learn that, as long as local disciplinary data shows racial disparities, the nation will always out-pace us on academic achievement and graduation rates?

So often, those in leadership positions deflect responsibility and accountability. Complex change happens on the ground level.

Some schools are culturally responsive and academically relevant – and get positive student outcomes and see less problematic behaviors. Examples: The Mastery School, Waite Park Community School, KIPP North Star Academy, Ascension and Hope Academy, which enroll large numbers of students on Free and Reduced Lunch. They’re demonstrating strong academic achievement and are meeting students’ needs.

Equitable schools should give us all hope in addressing this problem and we should strive to be a part of the solution.

Teachers and school leaders:  Equip yourselves with skills and resources to make equitable decisions – for your school – on curriculum, interventions, and behavior management. Also, allocate dollars to best meet the needs of all the students.

Parents:  Expect schools to communicate academic expectations, develop inclusive climates, and create a learning culture in which students’ gifts and interests are validated. Expect schools to integrate social emotional learning and cultural responsiveness into all learning.

Students:  You have a voice in your education, and school is a place to be unapologetically you. Your culture and unique gifts have a purpose in setting the values and norms of your school. Share in the responsibility for getting back on track when misbehavior occurs and be open to developing positive teacher-student relationships.

Community:  Understand this – “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” -W. Edwards Deming. We have standards to change, a school system that needs remodeling and a generation of students who are depending on us.


Keary Saffold, photo by KWST Behavioral Development Group 







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