Partnering for Racial Equity (PRE)

Origins of the Partnership


A Research-Practice Partnership for Systemic Racial Equity

Across the country, a wave of racial equity initiatives has emerged to address long-standing disproportionalities in discipline and other racial inequities in US public schools. At the forefront of these efforts and in support of the SPS Racial Equity Policy, Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Education Association developed a joint initiative in 2015 to develop and support Racial Equity Teams in cohorts of schools across the district. Despite the importance of such initiatives, the field has had little systematic data or inquiry about how equity teams approach their work and inform their progress. Our partnership – between the University of Washington, Seattle Public Schools, and the Seattle Education Association – is among the first in the nation to undertake systematic data collection and inquiry into these efforts to drive systemic improvements and inform similar efforts across the country.

How Did We Come Together?

Goals of Partnership

Theory of Change

What Have We Learned So Far?

What’s Next?

How did we come together?

In the fall of 2015, the SPS and SEA signed a collective bargaining agreement that formalized school-based Racial Equity Teams in 30+ schools over the subsequent 3 years. Just after the CBA, the UW and SPS began conversations about a partnership to investigate the RETs. Subsequently, we (3 UW College of Education faculty, SPS Department of Research & Evaluation, SPS Department of Racial Equity Advancement, SEA Center for Racial Equity) formalized a research-practice partnership (RPP). Through this partnership we have been collaborating to collect and analyze data and design change efforts across the system. We were awarded a prestigious Spencer Foundation Research-Practice grant in 2017 and have been invited to share our work at several national convenings.

Back to Top

What are the goals of our Partnership?

Our partnership is intentionally different from more conventional short-term, project-specific research efforts. Rather, we seek to leverage the expertise of both research and practice to inform iterative improvements and build systemic capacity for racial equity. Our partnership has four primary goals:

  • Identify and co-construct knowledge and practices of racial equity teams to decrease racial disparities in student learning, discipline, and academic outcomes.
  • Integrate equity indicators into a system of measures (tools, collection processes, and routines for analyses and use) to inform progress in changing student experiences, instructional practices, and institutional conditions across the system.
  • Build our collective capacities to transform systems at multiple levels towards racial equity.
  • Partner in the work through processes that foster trust, relationships, and political will for collective learning and improvement.
Back to Top

What is our Theory of Change for Systemic Racial Equity?

Through our first two years of partnering to understand the racial equity teams and broader district equity work, we identified a theory-in-action focused on raising awareness and changing individual mindsets and beliefs in order to result in more equitable student outcomes. Informed by our collective practice-based knowledge and research across education research fields (teacher teams, instructional improvement, culture, race and learning, racial literacy, and organizational leadership for equity), the partnership has been working to evolve this theory of change to specifically address changes to practice, structures, and systems.

Our evolving theory of change seeks to leverage bottom-up, locally-driven change efforts within a cohesive framework for systemic racial equity through four tenets:

(1) a central focus on educators’ everyday practice and actionable knowledge to work effectively with racially, culturally and economically diverse learners;

(2) efforts to foster the capacity of educator teams and the organizational conditions (leadership, climate, authority, resources, etc.) to lead others in learning to shift individual, school and district practices towards racial equity;

(3) race-conscious, iterative data inquiry and use as a systems lever of change;

(4) collective learning across classroom, school, and district levels to sustain systemic improvement.

Back to Top

What have we learned so far?

After our initial partnership-building phase, we have collaborated in two primary lines of inquiry:

  1. Developing & Using Racial Equity Measures
  2. Case studies to illuminate how RETs work to address racial inequities
  1. Developing & Using Racial Equity Measures

The RET Survey was co-developed in 2016-2017 (and refined in Feb 2018) to illuminate the work of the 32 existing teams, understand the organizational conditions for racial equity work in schools with RETs, and develop baseline data about culturally responsive practices. We found:

  • Most Racial Equity Teams have prioritized building their schools’ understanding of inequities through professional development and trainings. The least reported activities of RETs was reviewing data related to disparities and improving instructional practice.
  • Schools with RETs reported a relatively positive racial equity learning climate in their buildings, though teachers of color perceived, on average, significantly less conducive conditions for racial equity work than their white colleagues.
  • Educators in schools with RETs consistently rated their culturally-responsive practice as above average. However, subsequent data collection highlighted considerable variability in specific instructional practices, such as the use of student feedback to improve instruction. Teachers also reported a lower overall sense of sufficient supports, resources, materials, and professional development for culturally responsive practice.

2.  RET Case Study Findings

We conducted case studies of 4 schools with RETs (Leschi Elementary, Olympic Hills Elementary, Denny Middle School and Rainier Beach High School) to examine variability across team focus, levels, geography, and outcomes. Our findings address the following research questions:

  • How do schools with RETs work to build educators’ practice to address racial inequities in classrooms and schools?
    • 5 primary substantive foci of teams: discipline disproportionality; family engagement; detracking; student voice; culturally responsive teaching/ethnic studies
    • Most of the teams met monthly or bimonthly and focused on offering professional development to build their own and their colleague’s understanding of equity related to their substantive focus (ranging from 1-4 sessions per year)
    • Emerging promising practices: Avenues for student voice, racial affinity groups, coordinated efforts with other teams/initiatives to leverage resources, innovative forms of data collection and analyses (e.g., about discipline)
  • What RET characteristics, supports, and organizational conditions hinder or foster team efforts to shift policy and practice to foster greater racial equity?
    • We found significant variability in the historical context and organizational conditions within which teams are undertaking the work.
    • Enabling conditions included a positive racial equity learning climate across the school; long-term school-wide investment in equity work (RETs were not the starting point); clear principal sponsorship; routines for sharing knowledge and professional learning about racial equity;  access to aligned and ongoing resources, tools, and expertise;
    • Constraining conditions included: limited guidance, communication and support from district; principal disinvestment; amalgam of external expertise (lacking coherence); limited resources for the work.

As a result of the findings from these lines of inquiry, the partnership is working on the following:

  1. We have increasingly focused on daily practice and supports to enable educators to build from their existing focus on understanding equity concepts and self-identity to developing their capacity to enact racial equity in their daily instructional and organizational leadership practices. The UW is compiling a set of annotated bibliographies and research briefs to inform these efforts.
  2. We have embarked on developing a district-wide measurement system to track progress and inform improvements to racial equity work over time, drawing from theory-driven, research-based constructs.
  3. We are continuing quantitative analyses using existing administrative data to examine impacts on distal student outcomes and will use our qualitative case study findings to further understand how implementation may explain those findings.  
  4. We coordinate regularly towards integrating the work on RETs and equity measures with the multiple other racial equity initiatives of the district and union.
Back to Top

What’s next?

The partnership’s next phase of work focuses on design teams comprised of racial equity team members, district staff, researchers, RET partners (cadre of teacher leaders supported by SEA Center for Race & Equity), and student/family/community leaders. The teams will co-design equitable practices in and between schools, with an initial focus on integrating race and criticality in Early Literacy instruction. The design teams will elaborate shared design principles then innovate and iterate on particular practices as well as identify the organizational and leadership practices to support their spread across schools. We will use the system of equity measures to assess progress and inform the next iteration of program design and implementation.

Back to Top