When Curriculum Falls Short in Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Here’s Where It Misses the Mark

Staff Writer

Curriculum materials currently on the market are falling short when it comes to representing people of color and providing guidance for teachers on addressing diversity, a new survey found.

The results of the nationally representative survey were released as part of a new EdWeek Market Brief special report that looks at what K-12 officials want from education companies in addressing issues of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Conducted in August and September, the survey asked 931 educators about their expectations for businesses’ products, public messaging, hiring, and efforts in helping districts improve the performance of historically disadvantaged students.

One of the questions in the survey asked where instructional materials are falling short in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The biggest weakness, chosen by 42 percent of respondents, is that materials aren’t providing teachers enough support on how to address these topics. And 38 percent of those surveyed say that people of color are either diminished or missing entirely from historical references and stories.

Other shortcomings include the materials not speaking to the experiences of students of color and failing to address issues of racial bias or inequity head-on.

A small group of K-12 officials, 9 percent, say materials present overtly racist descriptions of people of color. And 10 percent say photos or images in the materials are racially offensive.

Those responses aren’t surprising, said Chastity McFarlan, content quality manager for Renaissance, a large-scale provider of classroom assessments, curriculum, and analytics. She’s seen that customers are looking for content that has more diversity, whether its geographic, racial, ethnic, or cultural. 

 “[The survey responses] sort of confirmed what we knew to be true prior to the pandemic,” McFarlan said. “The question is what do we do with the data and how do we make it so that when you administer the survey next time, we see improvement.

“It’s going to take some reimagining, re-envisioning of what we want our products to look like as an industry.”

The data offers an important insight for providers about K-12 officials’ specific needs more than a year after the killing of George Floyd prompted a national reckoning in school districts and their communities on race. It captures the continuing hunger for curriculum, assessment, and PD tools attuned to the needs of diverse student populations, as well as anxiety among teachers about upsetting those opposed to DEI work.

A strong majority of the district administrators, school principals, and teachers who were surveyed — 72 percent — say their districts are putting at least some effort into promoting DEI.

When it comes to what products in the education market have the greatest potential for supporting DEI efforts, the highest portion of those surveyed, 50 percent, say professional development for teachers.

Other products seen as effective in supporting DEI are social-emotional learning programs (chosen by 43 percent), parent communication tools (35 percent) and programs focused on English language learners (31 percent). 

By contrast, few educators chose student information systems (11 percent), or summative assessments (10 percent).

At Renaissance, McFarlan said her team is considering this data in their ongoing efforts to provide more diverse and equitable products. The company has hired external consultants to provide training to content development staff, conducted diversity audits on their content, and worked to make diverse perspectives easier to find for teachers.

“I feel very hopeful that … this is not something that is a fad, that is going to go away,” she said. “I’ve heard over and over that equity is a process and not a product. I love that because it is not something that we are just going to accomplish and check off our list and move on. We will always lead with equity.”

For more information on downloading the report, or becoming an EdWeek Market Brief member, go here.

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