Norman schools: Equity means some groups get more

April 6, 2021

Ray Carter

In a recent professional development training, Norman public school personnel were informed that a focus on “equity” in education means some student groups must be given special treatment or advantages over others.

“When discussing equity, everyone’s okay with that until someone gets more,” said Stephanie Williams, executive director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) at Norman Public Schools. “And it isn’t until we’re put into those positions of maybe the parent having an issue or even sometimes kids asking, ‘Why does so-and-so get this?’—or whatever the scenario may be—when we’re put into those situations, we know that it really tests our knowledge on equity literacy, which is what we’re getting ready to move in and discuss later. So what we know is equity will result in an individual or group of individuals sometimes getting more.”

As is common with DEI training, the event portrayed equality as problematic and equity as superior. Williams defined equality as “across the board everybody gets the same.” The presentation indicated that equity in education is preferable.

Using a common DEI graphic to illustrate the difference between equality and equity, Williams portrayed some groups as the equivalent of an adult, others as a child, and other groups as a toddler, each trying to look over a fence to watch a ballgame. Under equality, all are standing on the ground, meaning only one group has an unobscured view of the field. Under equity, some groups are given boosts. Under “liberation,” the fence is removed entirely.

“What sometimes I find is people switch between ‘equality’ and ‘equity,’” Williams said. “And so sometimes we want the equity, but then if somebody gets more then we tend to switch back to the equality.”

The presentation made clear that different treatment provided to students groups may break down along racial lines.

“When you look at multicultural education, that concerns itself with exposing privileged students to multiple perspectives and other cultures,” Williams said. “For students of color … the focus is on seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum.”

One slide on Social Justice Education identified its goal as helping students or staff in “becoming anti-racist,” and stated that individuals in the “growth zone” of that process should “identify how I may unknowingly benefit from Racism,” “sit with my discomfort,” and “yield positions of power to those otherwise marginalized.”

Norman teachers are told they should “teach about sexism, poverty, racism, ableism, transphobia, and heterosexism.”

Another slide—“What does it mean to be equity literate?”—informed Norman school staff that “equity literate educators” will “cultivate in students the ability to analyze bias and inequity in classroom materials, classroom interactions, and school policies.”

The material also advised Norman teachers that “equity-literate educators” should “teach about sexism, poverty, racism, ableism, transphobia, and heterosexism.”

In another slide titled, “Understanding your role as an ally,” Norman school staff were informed, “The actions of an accomplice are meant to directly challenge institutionalized racism, colonization and white supremacy by blocking or impeding racist people, policies and structures.”

It also stated that accomplice actions “are informed by, directed and often coordinated with leaders who are black, brown-first nations/indigenous people, and/or people of color.”

The slide also advised that an “ally” is “like a disruptor and educator in spaces dominated by Whiteness.” However, the slide added, “Being an ally is not an invitation to be in Black and Brown spaces to gain brownie points, lead, take over, or explain.”

It may be challenging for Norman educators to comply with that directive, based on demographic data presented during the presentation.

One slide indicated that far more than three-out-of-four Norman teachers and administrators are white. And those educators work in a district where a majority of students are white and the share of students from certain racial groups is lower than the state average.

Williams said Norman Public Schools has 14,419 students. Data presented during her presentation showed that 55.4 percent of Norman students are white, 6.7 percent are black, 16.3 percent are Hispanic, 4.4 percent are American Indian, 0.2 percent are Pacific Islander, 3.2 percent are Asian, and 13.9 percent are classified as “two or more” races.

The shares of Norman students who are black or American Indian were below the statewide share of both groups, according to Census figures.

“Although our student demographic continues to make that shift and we are becoming more and more diverse, that same shift isn’t necessarily happening for our teaching population and our administrative population,” Williams said.

She also said changing student demographics have little impact on reducing perceived challenges, and that hailing those changes as societal progress is not enough.

“Embedding and integrating this work into everything that you do is so critical,” Williams said. “And I want to say this: It’s not just enough that we say we celebrate diversity. Because celebrating diversity doesn’t necessarily do anything to change the inequities that exist for marginalized populations.”

Norman school staff were also informed there is no end goal in sight for educational “equity” efforts.

“Do you ever arrive?” Williams asked. “As I have said to many people before, do you ever get to a place where you’re like, ‘I’ve figured it out. I’m woke. I have arrived.’ And so the short answer to that is I will tell you that no, I don’t believe that you ever arrive.”