Addressing educational and social inequalities through research

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(Review of Research in Education: Disrupting Inequality Through Education Research, Published by American Educational Research Association, Volume 41, Issue 1, 2017, ISSN: 0091-732X, Pages: 542)

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the world’s largest interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Established in 1916, AERA is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results. The “Review of Research in Education (RRE)” is a unique peer-reviewed journal of AERA, published annually since 1973, which provides an overview and descriptive analysis of selected topics of relevant research literature through critical and synthesizing essays. RRE also promotes discussion and debate about research problems in addition to pulling together and summarizing work in the field.

The 2017 volume of RRE, “Disrupting Inequality Through Education Research”, edited by Mariana Souto-Manning (Teachers College, Columbia University) and  Maisha T. Winn (University of California, Davis),  publishes reviews of research in education that advance understanding of how inequality and social processes that disrupt it affect the lives of children and youth. It proposes that disrupting inequalities—in schools as well as in society—is a moral imperative for education research. With this urgency in mind, the journal has assembled a range of scholars who offer new ways of disrupting inequity and injustice through education research using various methods—youth participatory action research (YPAR), design experiments, discourse analysis—across a range of disciplines—math education, literacy, science education—and for a range of learners, including students with multiple racial identities, abilities, linguistic repertoires, age groups, gender, and many more.

Contributed by 66 coauthors, the volume consists of 21 chapters. In the first chapter, Michelle Salazar Pérez and Cinthya M. Saavedra call for onto-epistemological diversity in the field of early childhood education and care (ECEC). Specifically, the authors discuss the need to (re)center early childhood education, moving away from Eurocentric norms and concepts that have historically oppressed and disempowered children of color. They attempt to introduce Black and Chicana feminisms as global south visions to transform approaches to research and pedagogy in ECEC and, in turn, disrupt inequities. The next chapter draws our attention toward consequential education research that has transformative potential: intellectually, educationally, and socially. It is about learning to see differently. The authors use the notion of “learning to see” both metaphorically and as a theoretical lens and methodological guide to illustrate how rigorous and consequential education research can help us imagine and design new forms of learning and schooling.

Chapter-3 examines the disproportionality in special education and the reframing of technical solutions to address systemic inequities. The authors raise a question why a legally sound civil rights law like Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been unable to decline disproportionality for nearly four decades. The next chapter addresses how fundamental principles regarding how people learn open up possibilities for conceptualizing a broad ecological culturally rooted framework for the design of robust learning environments in a variety of settings, especially schools. This chapter synthesizes research findings from across cognition, human development, the neurosciences, and learning in academic disciplines to document emerging consensus around generative principles that can inform the design of robust learning environments. The fifth chapter examines contemporary research to address the tenet of fundamental equality to counter biological determinism laden with mythic racial, gender, and other types of unproven assumptions and biases. Drawing on a wide range of emerging positions and evidence across neurosciences, epigenetics, developmental systems perspective, and cultural-historical framework, the core argument is that all persons have infinite potential—incalculable in advance, unlimited, and not predefined in terms of any putatively inborn “endowments.”

Chapter-6 challenges dominant narratives about the civic disengagement of youth from marginalized communities by re-conceptualizing what counts as civic participation in public life and how youth are positioned as civic agents. The authors examine ideologies that undergird traditional forms of civic education and engagement in the United States and offer an alternative vision of civic life grounded in recognition of systemic inequality and struggle for social justice. The seventh chapter explores the experiences of non-dominant and minoritized parents who challenge injustice and inequity in the public schools attended by their children. It interrogates hegemonic approaches to parent involvement favoring dominant groups and silencing efforts of non-dominant parents to confront discriminatory assumptions and unequal opportunities. In the next chapter, the authors attempt to challenge racism-neutral and racism-evasive approaches to studying racial disparities by centering current research that makes visible the normalized facets of racism in K–12 schools. The next two chapters (9 & 10) examine the experiences of Black women’s and girls’ persistence in mathematics and identity-based research in mathematics education related to Black children. While chapter-11 offers a research-based framework for increasing race and gender equity in school discipline, the next chapter challenges popular-media narratives of immigrant youth from West African countries.

In the chapter-13, the authors outline the foundations of participatory action research with youth (YPAR) and examine the distinct epistemological, methodological, and pedagogical contributions of an interdisciplinary corpus of YPAR studies and scholarship. They also make a case for its role in education research; discuss its contributions to the field as knowledge producers and change agents for social justice as well as the tensions and possibilities of YPAR across disciplines. The next chapter entitled ‘Disrupting Educational Inequalities through Youth Digital Activism’ is contributed by Amy Stornaiuolo and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (University of Pennsylvania). This chapter reviews scholarship on youth and young adult activism in digital spaces, as young users of participatory media sites are engaging in political, civic, social, or cultural action and advocacy online to create social change. The authors argue that youth’s digital activism serves as a central mechanism to disrupt inequality, and that education research should focus on these youth practices, particularly by young people from marginalized communities or identities. By examining young people’s use of online tools for organizing toward social change, the authors suggest that education researchers can learn from youth themselves about how to disrupt educational inequalities, resulting in a more humanizing stance for education research that takes into fuller account the human potential of all youth.

While chapter-15 reviews the literature on community-based arts programs serving minoritized youth to identify the conditions and practices for fostering sociopolitical consciousness, the next chapter sheds light on the role community-based educational spaces have played in resisting forms of educational inequality and their role in the lives of minoritized youth. Chapter-17 examines critical areas of research on issues of equity/equality in the highly proclaimed and exponentially growing model of bilingual education: two-way immersion. The next chapter proposes a conceptual framework that merges intersectionality and policy analysis as an analytical tool to understand the nuanced, multilayered, compounded educational inequality encountered specifically by low-income, Latino Spanish-speaking students in Arizona K–12 public schools as a function of intersecting educational policies.

The nineteenth chapter examines classroom conversations about race with a theoretical framing oriented to understanding how such conversations may disrupt social and educational inequalities. The review covers research on how classroom conversations on race contribute to students’ and educators’ understandings of a racialized society, their construction of and reflection on relationships among students, as well as to their learning of academic content knowledge. In chapter-20, the authors interrogate the notion of leveraging commonly used by language and literacy scholars. They review scholarship steeped in Vygotskian-inspired research on learning, culturally relevant and culturally sustaining pedagogies, and bilingual education research that forefront the notion that the language practices of children and youth are useful for mediating learning and development. The final chapter of the volume examines the factors that contribute to a sense of school belonging for immigrant and immigrant-origin youth. Through a review of the education research on critical care, the authors propose a framework informed by cariño conscientizado—critically conscious and authentic care—as central to re-conceptualizing notions of school belonging. Research studies on teacher–student and peer relationships, student agency, and organizing are reviewed to identify how they function to disrupt structural factors that maintain educational inequities.

The writer is an independent researcher

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