Published March 22, 2021
A new Harvard Kennedy School effort to collect academic anti-racism research and share it outside academia includes work by Graduate School of Education faculty member Jaekyung Lee.
A study led by Lee, professor of educational, leadership and policy, that reveals how standardized testing fails to fix school inequities is part of Harvard’s Institutional Anti-racism and Accountability Project’s new Race Research & Policy Portal.
The goal of the online resource is to make scholarly research, like Lee’s, more accessible to the public by publishing summaries in plain, non-academic language. It aims to more broadly share insights and practices so that businesses and institutions have the tools they need to dismantle structural racism.
Lee sees its promise. “Clearly, this is a really important resource for policy makers and any stakeholders in equity,” he says.
His study, originally published in 2004 in the American Education Research Journal, found that states did not improve student achievement by holding schools accountable with standardized test scores.
The study’s conclusion — that testing failed because it did not address educational inequities at the heart of disparities in student performance — is now newly condensed and posted: “Accountability practices such as adopting high-stakes tests, with an exclusive emphasis on performance outcomes and disregard for resource allocation issues, lack of support for school improvement, and limited attention to achievement gap issues, will fall short of achieving racial and socioeconomic equity.”
The idea for the site developed from a course, “Race, Inequality and American Democracy,” taught by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at the Kennedy School, says Miriam Aschkenasy, the project’s program director.
Her team, which works to encourage anti-racist accountability, launched the Race Research and Policy Portal last fall in hopes of accelerating deep change.
Too often, Aschkenasy notes, anti-racist efforts are superficial. She emphasizes her point with a metaphor: “You cannot dismantle something if you are only looking at the front door and not the whole house,” she says. “What we do in this country is, we paint the house.”
Instead, Aschkenasy adds, the “house” of policies and practices that keeps structural racism in place needs to be taken down to the studs and rebuilt.
“Our goal is to critically evaluate what works and doesn’t work in the field and, hopefully, create accountability standards,” she says. “Part of the complexity in the anti-racism space is we haven’t done a good job on identifying what works.”
New summaries of scholarly research are regularly added to the site, which so far has about 40 entries. Some highlight successful anti-racism efforts, like the efficacy of a multi-pronged approach. Some point out failures, like Lee’s examination of testing.
“Our aim is to use research and policy to promote anti-racism as a core value and institutional norm,” Aschkenasy explains. “Our goal is really to engage anyone who is interested in anti-racism work in a thoughtful conversation about what works and what doesn’t work …
“Jaekyung Lee’s work is a perfect example of how we need to examine the systems and the structures. This work puts a critical lens on systems and structures that uphold racism.”