Policy expert, D90 board prez eyes D200 board

Ralph Martire says evidence-based professional development is key to racial equity

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The current president of the River Forest District 90 Board of Education, a nationally known public policy expert, says he wants to bring some of the ideas he implemented in D90 to the Oak Park and River Forest High School board. 

Ralph Martire, a public policy professor and executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability — a nonprofit research and advocacy think tank in Chicago — said during a recent interview that although the current D200 board has made some significant strides in the area of racial equity, systemic change at the district has yet to occur. 

"They're doing a number of things you're supposed to do if you really want to change a system and environment for the better," he said. But consistent implementation of some of those measures, particularly the pending racial equity policy that the D200 board could vote on soon, is where the rubber meets the road.

Martire said that though monitoring performance to "ensure that implementation is done with fidelity" are critical to the policy's success, the district must confront head-on other issues that impact racial equity at OPRF. 

"I think the biggest challenge will be getting faculty on board with professional development on inclusive bias that is ongoing, evidence-based and embedded in the classroom," he said. 

Martire, who has helped draft policy at the local, state and federal level in a range of areas — for instance, he helped draft the state's new school-funding formula — pointed to D90's successes in dealing with its own racial equity problems. 

He said he ran for re-election in 2014 on the need to establish a racial equity policy in the district, because "clearly, the data was telling us our educational system was flawed and it wasn't providing excellent educational opportunity for all kids." 

Once the board acknowledged it had a problem, Martire explained, they created an equity committee "that took a year to look at all the evidence-based practices effective at eliminating" the gap. 

The board unanimously adopted a racial equity policy, changed the district's hiring practices, started recruiting teachers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, implemented an evidence-based system of teaching shown to eliminate race-based academic performance gaps, and required faculty, staff and board members to undergo implicit bias training. 

"We reviewed the data and consultants looked at what it was like for minority students in D90," Martire said. "We discovered that a kindergartener could enter our school system as a 5-year-old, graduate Roosevelt Middle School and have a 96 to 98 percent change of never having a minority teacher." 

Since 2016, Martire said, 30 percent of D90's new teachers have been minorities. He added that there have been many testimonials from white teachers whose perspectives and approaches to teaching students of color have changed after undergoing implicit bias training. 

If D90 sticks with the measures currently in place, he said, in three to seven years, "I think we will completely eliminate any statistically meaningful correlation between race or ethnicity of students in the district."

Martire wants to ensure that OPRF is on the same path by rigorously implementing evidence-based professional development and pedagogical practices across the board.

"You look at the performance data and SAT achievement gap between white and black students at OPRF and it's worse than the statewide average," he said. "Partly, it's because white kids at OPRF score so high, but if they can score in the 80 percent range, how come our black kids are only scoring in the 20s? That's just unacceptable." 

The barriers to quality learning and academic success for minority students at OPRF "have become ingrained in the culture," he said, and can only be genuinely changed if they're identified and addressed systemically.

"You've got to put in place the research-based practices best-suited for reversing this over time and you've got to stick with it," he said. "Monitor it and publish results to the community. There's a lot of work to be done. Passing a racial equity policy is very much only the first step." 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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Alex Garcia  

Posted: March 15th, 2019 11:03 AM

As mentioned in numerous other letters to the editor and comments by other readers, Mr. Martire's political and financial ties to deep-pocketed union groups who hold too much sway in this state should disqualify him.

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