If public schools and nonprofit groups are serious about reducing the educational gap between racial groups, they would start dedicating the time and money necessary to teach students to read and perform math at or above grade level. Instead, philanthropic groups waste hundreds of millions of dollars on “equity” goals, convincing students to feel good about their failing reading and math scores.
K-12 activists claim these goals are necessary to achieve “equal opportunity” for all students, but in practice, they achieve centralized control of outcomes. And those outcomes are failing our children.
Philanthropic foundations use grant funding to nudge public schools in certain ideological directions through various education “initiatives.” However, studies reveal no evidence that these grants have improved student outcomes. Even in the years just before the pandemic, scores were mostly stagnant or in decline.
According to U.S. News and World Report, data from 2019 show that only 38% of Denver Public Schools middle school students are at or above the proficient level for reading. Only 26% are proficient in math. The NAEP Report Card shows that eighth graders in the Colorado district dropped ten points in math, from 275 to 265, between 2019 and 2022. A total score of 299 is deemed “NAEP proficient.”
In 2019, DPS received a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its “Networks for School Improvement” initiative. Instead of pushing for more intensive reading and mathematics support for struggling students, the district is using the money to implement systemwide anti-racist and equity-focused policies.
For example, a district presentation states that the primary driver to “increase the proportion of Black and Latinx (sic) students demonstrating competency in math” is to redesign systems and processes that “dismantle racist structures.” The district’s solution is to implement “Grading for Equity,” a program supposedly designed to reduce bias in teaching and grading practices. Equitable grading teaches adherents to be highly critical of traditional educational expectations such as meeting deadlines, personal discipline, and work ethic. While it is sold as “bias resistant,” it actually promotes a bias away from merit.
Just imagine what that $10 million could have done for that district if it were spent on programs to improve proficiency in math or reading instead.
Denver Public Schools has also received grant funding from the Wallace Foundation to implement what the district calls “Transformative Social Emotional Academic Learning” or TSEAL. Sold as a “lever for equity,” the districtwide programming wastes valuable class time to push ideas that focus on “redistributing power,” “racism” and “racial justice.”
The Wallace Foundation states that “equitable SEL” is necessary because “all children begin absorbing and internalizing messages” about their own “racial inferiority or superiority from a very early age.” It continues: “Children who are never asked to confront their role in a racist and unjust society are at a disadvantage; unexamined assumptions and biases undermine and limit white children’s ability to develop and use SEL skills like empathy, perspective-taking, and kindness.”
In addition to funding SEL, the foundation is incentivizing the systemic integration of equity into the education system. The foundation’s Equity-Centered Pipeline Initiative seeks to build a pipeline of school leadership that has this equity mindset and can advance a district’s “vision of equity.”
Similarly, Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky was awarded $8.2 million in 2021 to participate in the pipeline initiative. The district developed its Affirming Racial Equity policy, which was curated to “fortify anti-biased, anti-racist, and racially equitable pedagogy and practices” for its “diverse cultures.” It defines “diverse” as “pertaining to any and all cultures that are NOT heterosexual, male-centered, white, Western, and/or Christian.”
According to its NAEP scores, Jefferson County Public Schools proficiencies for math and reading top out at 26% and 38%, respectively. Again, it is clear that $8.2 million dollars were spent poorly.
School boards and local politicians need to assess how to manage this kind of outside funding and grants. They should shift the focus away from promoting woke ideology and toward teaching children the reading and math skills they need to succeed.
Rhyen Staley is a researcher for Parents Defending Education. He holds a master’s degree in elementary education and has over a decade of classroom experience in both public and private schools.