On the Matter of Equity and East Lyme

To avoid the fate of Guilford, let’s set an example for how research, evidence and analysis should be handled in an academic setting

As a practical matter, I see no reason to question the thrust of the recommendations made by the Equity Institute, which are, by and large, common sense. 

Yes, East Lyme school officials should work to reduce bullying, and to make school settings a space for young people to learn and grow. Yes, school officials should try to construct a curriculum that is diverse and relevant, equally nurturing for young people who wish to learn a trade or to attend college. Yes, school officials should do their best to provide equal opportunity and discipline, if necessary, to every student.

Classrooms should be places where young people not only find various ways to succeed, but also where they feel safe enough to make mistakes and sometimes fail. Fostering that sort of learning environment and finding the balance between excellence and the right sort of academic pressure on the one hand, and joy and emotional health on the other, should a constant effort not just for East Lyme, but for every school at every level.

That said, if you take the issue of equity and schooling seriously, then you don’t lower the bar by hiring a company with few obvious credentials on a no-bid contract to produce a report buttressed by not one iota of publicly-reviewable data or even a basic statistical analysis.

To say that sharing that aggregate data is somehow an invasion of privacy, as the group told our reporter, is nonsense.  East Lyme Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton surely knows that. No doubt, Board of Education Chair Tim Hagen knows that as well.

In their defense, this is hardly the first study paid for by a local government that has yielded next to nothing. It’s not as though vaunted Yale credentials – at a much higher cost than the $15,000 that paid for this study — brought any more of value to Old Lyme’s plans for local development. I would only say that consulting is such a cottage industry in Connecticut, that I am somewhat taken aback that East Lyme schools would reach across the border for help. And if we want to get away from a “good ole boys” way of doing business, as the study claims, an open and equitable contracting process for the work of equity in East Lyme is surely one place to start.

To be fair, there is reason to hope that the surveys and focus groups have helped jumpstart a healthy conversation in the town, and among school officials, despite the obvious shortcomings of Equity Institute’s report. East Lyme, like the rest of America, could use a healthy conversation and some hard questions on topics that include racism and race.

But here’s the rub, if we want to avoid the fate of Guilford – a town that is currently tearing itself apart over issues of equity and changes to its curriculum – let’s set an example for students and faculty for how research, evidence and analysis — at every step — should be handled in an academic setting, because surely it is not this.

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