Examining Student-Centered Learning Through a Racial Equity Lens

Nick Donohue
Apr 15 · 3 min read
Photo by Yogesh Rahamatkar on Unsplash

Over the past decade and in partnership with many educators, organizers, and communities across the region, the Foundation has played a part in advancing personalized, student-centered approaches to learning across the New England region. This approach has been rooted in assumptions that traditional approaches are not sufficient to address the great disparities in learning outcomes. And while we are still very committed to advancing these approaches we are learning more about what is needed to bring the full benefit of student-centered learning to bear in the name of racially equitable outcomes.

Over the last couple of years at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we’ve spent time using a racial equity lens to inspect our past grantmaking strategy that had been focused exclusively on student-centered learning. Additionally, we’ve spent time reflecting on our internal culture and grantmaking practices to inspect and disrupt how white supremacy culture shows up within our organization.

I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

As I enter my final year of working at the Foundation, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on the impact of the organization and our grantee partners’ work throughout the region. I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished together, from advancing innovative, student-centered approaches to supporting young people to thrive. At the same time, I’ve reflected on the limits of our initial grantmaking strategy. I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

Download a copy of the report

Today, our partners at Coalition of Schools Educating Boy’s of Color are releasing the first phase of research examining student-centered learning through a racial equity lens — informed by community organizations, parents, students, and educators throughout the region. This report tells us what many have long known to be true — that the current student-centered framework as it exists has lacked an explicit focus on racial equity and needs to integrate such a focus to be an effective tool in this effort. The research gives us hope that stakeholders view student-centered learning as a strategy to potentially address racial inequities — but we know that there are many conditions that must be present for these practices to take root (equitable access to transportation, mental health supports, and antiracist curriculum, to name a few).

I am proud to support this work that will continue to inspect our current student-centered learning frame, to better lay the groundwork for these approaches to flourish in ways that most center those impacted in conversations, decision-making, and practices. Phase 2 of the Equity and Student-Centered Learning Project will investigate the development and use of equitable student-centered learning practices by community stakeholders in order to advance racial equity in schools. We look forward to continuing this learning journey with you.

Download a copy of the report!