Penn State to work with schools to 'reimagine' K-12 around 'anti-racism' and 'social justice'

Penn State University​ College of Education plans to "work collaboratively" with nearby schools to advance what it calls “essential literacies."

The plan also suggests that the college itself undergo an "equity audit" to determine if it is "complicit" in "perpetuating cycles of systemic inequities."

The Pennsylvania State University College of Education has plans to 'reimagine' education at the "regional, state, national, and global levels" to ensure that children are sufficiently literate in specific concepts, including "social justice," and "climate change."

The college announced it would adopt a new set of hiring practices to “recruit, support and retain faculty and staff from historically underrepresented groups, particularly people of color” as part of the first set of objectives and action items in its five year strategic plan.

The college plans to review existing recruitment and retention policies and implement a policies that will “increase the number and percentage of faculty and staff of color.”

The plan also includes similar changes to policies to improve graduate student recruitment “particularly with respect to students of color.”

“We will engage in intentional practices to develop an inclusive College of Education that derives strength from multiple identities and lived experiences and mirrors the representation of individuals in our society," said College of Education Dean Kimberly A. Lawless.

These initiatives fall under just one of the many objectives detailed by the PSU College of Education’s Strategic Plan 2021-2025, which outlines the school’s planned efforts to incorporate "social justice" and so-called "anti-racism" into every aspect of education systems. 

"We reimagine the existing EC-12 and adult education systems, including the College of Education, by identifying and addressing the systemic inequities that impede many individuals from realizing their full potential,” the school explains in the plan’s mission statement.

The policy objectives also express the intent to “work collaboratively with Pennsylvania and other school districts” to forge partnerships related to “essential literacies” and “social justice.” 

“We will engage collaboratively with families, community members, educators, and policymakers within the state, nation, and around the world,” the plan states. “We will foster and develop mutual partnerships with families, schools, and community organizations to address pressing social issues, including poverty, essential literacies, racism, inclusion, mental health and well-being, and climate change, among others.”

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The school defines “essential literacies” as including “the traditional subject matter areas as well as global citizenship, climate change, social justice, understanding of systemic racism, democratic participation, civics education, mental health and well-being, and inclusivity."

The plan’s four broad strategic goals describe an extensive list of objectives and action items designed to bring the school’s curriculum, faculty, research, and partnerships with educators into alignment with progressive values.

For example, the plan expresses the goal to develop educators with the necessary skills and knowledge for “transforming education for all learners with respect to essential literacies, inclusive instruction, social justice, anti-racism, inclusivity, as well as mental health and well-being.”

This begins with hiring practices designed to increase diversity among the staff and faculty. The plan contains the action item to “recruit additional top scholars whose research focuses on issues of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and anti-racism.”

The plan also specifies the need for an “equity audit” of each program to "ascertain how we may be implicitly complicit in perpetuating cycles of systemic inequities through the design and implementation of our curricula and instruction."

These policies will have an impact on how the school plans to apportion resources. For example, the plan includes an action item to “Conduct a needs assessment of instructors regarding the adoption and implementation of essential literacies, social justice, anti-racism, inclusivity, as well as mental health and well-being in our curricula,” and on the basis of that assessment “provide resources and support” to implement said values in the instruction. 

When it comes to research funding, the school plans to “Cultivate and coordinate clusters of proposals to support research for systemic change around themes of essential literacies, social justice, and mental health and well-being." 

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It also will “Recognize and reward engagement in equity, inclusion, and anti-racism outreach work, particularly those that address leadership, instruction, and curricula."

All of these proposals are designed with the dissemination and outreach of this material to Penn State’s partners, as described in the last strategic goal. Several action items are included that would help the College of Education “widely share our research, programs, materials, and interventions by means that are easily accessible by the public.”