Taking a Racial Equity Approach to Improving Early Literacy

NCECF reported recently on North Carolina’s unsurprising third grade reading test score results, which were similar to last year’s and showed continued racial, ethnic and socioeconomic gaps.

Reacting to the release of the test score data, Dr. Terry Stoops, vice president of Research and director of Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation, and a Pathways Design Team member, also called on education leaders to focus on the groups of students who are scoring lower than their peers – for example, Black boys – and rigorously investigate why. He held up the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative as a comprehensive set of strategies that can better support students in reaching proficiency.

We know that reading well in the early grades is critical for school and life success. The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative has brought together cross-sector partners to:

  • Adopt shared, whole child, birth-to-age-eight measures that put children on a pathway to grade-level reading.
  • Coordinate strategies to support children’s optimal development beginning at birth.
  • Align policies and practices that are rooted in how children develop.

The Pathways Design Team focused on three priority areas that influence grade-level reading – children’s social-emotional health, high quality birth-through-age-eight care and education, and regular school attendance – and co-created, over the past year, the Pathways Action Framework. The work uses an equity lens, with an explicit, but not exclusive, focus on racial equity. The Design Team process incorporated input from families, Design Team experts, local providers of services for children and families, and national research on what moves the needle in the areas of focus, particularly for children of color.

The Action Framework proposes actions that intentionally aim to break down barriers to opportunity for children and families of color – barriers created by current and historic laws, policies and practices. Some examples of actions from the Framework include:

  • Set Equity Goals. Make equity an agency-wide priority for state and local agencies by setting bold and doable equity-related goals within and across divisions that are tied to broader state and local goals and strategies.
  • Recruit and Retain Educators and School Leaders of Color. Develop a state plan to recruit and retain birth-through-age-eight educators and school leaders of color using a variety of strategies, including financial incentives, recruitment legislation, recruitment centers, pre-college programs, and alternative certification programs targeting substitute teachers and mid-career paraprofessionals.
  • Adopt Research-Based Standards for Culturally-Relevant Teaching. Adopt research-based standards that connect to diverse cultures (are culturally relevant) to help birth-through-age-eight educators know what skills they need to effectively teach students of color, honor the customs, norms and traditions of all students, and include the diverse views and histories of communities of color within the curriculum
  • Ensure Curricula and Materials are Culturally Relevant. Support local school districts and child care centers to implement strategies that detect racial and cultural bias in curricula and materials, and to select high-quality, diverse, culturally-relevant instructional materials and ways of teaching (pedagogy) that are aligned to state standards.
  • Require Specific Educator and Administrator Professional Development for Building Positive School Climates. Require educators and administrators to have pre-service education and in-service professional development on implicit bias, cultural variations in communication and interaction, ACEs, child development, and social emotional learning for licensure and license renewal.
  • Build a Pipeline of Health Providers of Color. Invest in programs through public universities, community colleges, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that build and maintain medical and health care profession pipeline programs for students of color.

The Pathways Measures of Success Framework – a set of whole-child, birth-through-eight data measures that research show matter for third grade reading proficiency – defines what NCECF will research, write and report on. These measures consider children’s health and development beginning at birth, supported and supportive families and communities, and high quality birth-through-eight learning environments with regular attendance. We will continue to lift up equity as we explore these issues, focusing explicitly on racial equity. We will also highlight inequities based on income, geography, language of origin, ability and age. 

Tell us whether your organization is ready to endorse the Pathways Action Framework!