An Action Plan, an Audit and Still Scant Public Data

Graphic by Max Stumpf.

As the summer of 2020 neared its end, Head of School Russell Shaw and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Marlo Thomas told the community in an email that they had “identified a path forward for the institution” in the realm of anti-racism. 

One of the dozens of steps the school set out in its Anti-Racism Action Plan was to commission an external “audit of our current policies, climate, curriculum and program to include identifying climate assessment tools and evaluation of the Black experience.” In other words, administrators wanted to formally look into the state of racial equity and inclusivity at GDS, after numerous anonymous posts on the Instagram account @blackatgds had said, in the main, that it was not good.

The audit—conducted by California-based educational consultant Alison Park—resulted in an executive summary released to the community on May 17. The study may be most notable for what it didn’t find: almost any data to help get to the bottom of any racial or other identity-related disparities at GDS.

Hiring, faculty retention, grades, course enrollment, participation in athletics and other school-run extracurriculars, club leadership, student disciplinary actions, indicators of families’ involvement with the school—they all could be analyzed along racial or other demographic lines to paint a factual picture of how well GDS has performed over time when it comes to realizing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Yet the audit discovered that GDS lacks the “integrated systems” needed to “track vital indicators of design for and demonstration of DEI.” Indeed, the report concedes that evidence of the effects of GDS’ equity work “is not currently available, beyond perceptions,” including concerns among community members that GDS’ work was performative rather than substantive. The year-plus inquiry, rather than managing to amass and examine substantive statistics itself, instead recommended further inquiry—specifically, the creation of an internal system for tracking identity-sorted data.

We urge GDS to move ahead with that task and to release the data it finds to students, families and teachers, leaving out only particulars that might impinge on individuals’ privacy. When it comes to numerical discoveries, transparency should be administrators’ default move, in line with their goal on the Anti-Racism Action Plan’s webpage to “transparently share how we have performed in meeting our commitments.”

Park’s audit involved its own surveys of community members, but their statistical findings were included only in the full-length report that administrators and trustees received, Thomas told the Bit—not the executive summary. She said that data analysts generally recommend making only broad conclusions, not the data, widely available.

However, if students and the broader community are to take ownership of, participate in and embrace efforts to make GDS a more inclusive place—an imperative the audit summary touches on time and again—they deserve to know in detail how well those efforts are actually going. Releasing a substantial amount of statistical results would spark new conversations about anti-racism, nudging community members to consider their own responsibility.

The Augur Bit undertook a study of the demographics of its quoted sources in the spring semester and, in September, published a summary of the statistical findings. Readers were left to judge for themselves how well the newspaper had done in presenting a diverse range of voices.

Shaw, in his virtual State of the School speech mostly to parents in January, shared some results from a survey of GDS students in 2021 conducted by Challenge Success, an education organization associated with Stanford University. The high school’s marks on the “teacher care and support scale” and the “belonging scale” were nearly identical across racial and gender categories.

Those limited statistics make clear the need for deeper and broader research, especially using empirical markers of community members’ experiences, to see whether and how they differ, or have differed in the past, in correlation to their racial identity. To be sure, numbers cannot tell the full story. But they would provide invaluable insights and pave the way for tailored, proactive steps with measurable benchmarks for success.

Certain findings will surely be surprising: problems assumed to exist that do not; unknown trends over time; discrepancies, to do with race or any other identifier GDS tracks, that had flown under the radar without public condemnation.

No doubt, the internal research that the audit proposed and that we now call for is a massive undertaking. Thomas explained to the Bit several challenges the school faces in collecting data—chiefly the inconsistency of the databases used by different departments and the unwillingness of some community members to specify their racial identity on GDS forms.

Whatever investment it takes, looking at GDS in the statistical mirror—and then sharing what they see—may be the best thing administrators can do to advance the anti-racist project they have undertaken for the past two years and the dedication to inclusivity they have affirmed for far longer.

The school has addressed the topic of racial equity and inclusivity with a flood of words—in numerous emails, in its original action plan, in an audit summary. Where are the numbers?

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