The American Educational Research Association (AERA) Districts in Research and Reform Special Interest Group (SIG) recently presented the Outstanding Dissertation Award to Assistant Professor Taylor Allbright in the Department of Educational Leadership.
The title of Allbright’s award-winning dissertation is, “Tough Conversations and Missed Opportunities: Implementing District Policy for Racial Equity.” In the manuscript, Allbright notes that while numerous district-level policies claim to advance equity, racial injustice remains entrenched in schooling. Further, much of the district policy implementation literature has yet to examine the role that race and racism play in the enactment of equity-oriented policy. Her project responds to this gap by examining the implementation of eight policies in two districts that leaders associated with racial equity goals.
“I am greatly honored to have received this recognition from leading scholars studying leadership and policy at the district level,” said Allbright, who received the award during the AERA Virtual Conference held April 8-12. “It is my hope that this project can contribute to the conversation about how district-level leaders can advance anti-racist practice and navigate formidable barriers to equity-oriented change. I am grateful to the participants who generously offered their time in support of this study, and am eternally thankful for the support of my dissertation chair, Dr. Julie Marsh, and committee members Dr. Shaun Harper, Dr. Julie Posselt and Dr. Lanita Jacobs.”
In her study, she found that policies aiming to reduce educator bias such as culturally responsive pedagogy workshops and implicit bias trainings received widespread resistance among educators, and were characterized by reports of limited influence on practice. This may be by design, as local policymakers indicated that the purpose of these activities was to initiate “tough conversations.” In contrast, policies targeting school climate and instructional improvement were warmly received and linked to concrete practice changes, yet the enactment of such policies was characterized by deficit discourse and other practices reinforcing racial inequity.
“This study contributes empirical and theoretical insights regarding how the cultural-cognitive foundations of institutionalized racism function as constraints for districts’ equity efforts,” said Allbright. “In addition, these findings shed light on how factors known to influence implementation broadly matter for racial equity policies in particular. For policymakers and practitioners, this project illuminates needs to advance educators’ understanding of systemic racism, to bridge theory and practice through avenues such as action research, and to increase racial awareness and cultural relevance in efforts to improve school climate and instruction. This study also lays a foundation for continued research regarding the implementation of district policies with racial equity goals.”
Allbright earned her doctorate in urban education policy from the University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education. She has published several peer-reviewed articles on school equity in K-12 schools, investigating how school leaders design and implement policies to advance educational equity. In addition to earning the Outstanding Dissertation Award, she has also won the Best Paper Award from AERA Organizational Theory SIG and the Award for Excellence in Teaching from the USC Rossier School of Education.
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