I hadn’t heard of this theory before now and it’s always good to hear about what ideas are out there for better public education. I did some research and lots of reading and found several good articles including ones about the Oakland School District’s program.
Let’s start from the premise that if you see a problem that affects the population broadly, then you attempt to create a solution that will negate or end that problem. That premise, of course, supposes that all people are affected in the same way by both the problem and your solution.
Universalism – across all sectors, not just education – is discussed in a paper by Thandika Mkandawire called Targeting and Universalism in Poverty Reduction.
In my reading, I found it fascinating that this idea of targeted universalism is NOT just a topic for public education. What I found is that it mostly covers the issue of poverty, around the world, on whether targeting efforts for certain groups truly work.
Another criticism levelled against universalism is derived from the post-modernist emphasis on difference and diversity. The charge is that universalism has been used to create a false sense of unity, which conceals the fact that it discriminated against certain social groups on grounds of gender and race and that, through tutelage, it imposed on new groups standards set by the dominant group.Some good examples that I found to explain the problems with this notion of universalism were these:
From National Equity Project:
It is possible, even likely, that universal programs will exacerbate existing inequalities. Some universal programs were designed to benefit whites more than non-whites, but let us consider programs where this was not the clear design.From the leader in targeted universalism, John Powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Professor of Law, African American and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley:
Defined as one of this country’s greatest accomplishments, the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 used federal dollars to subsidize the creation of the suburbs. This was the largest public works project in American history at the time. It gave impetus to waves of migrating middle- and upper-class families to abandon the central cities for the suburbs.
At the same time, many downtown regions were surrounded or demolished by massive highway construction, and the revenue generated by these projects did not return to the communities that were losing their churches, schools, and homes. As one author put it, “highways made suburban housing available on one end while destroying urban housing on the other.”
The ensuing arrangement of racially isolated urban dwellers and equally racially isolated suburban residents, hastened by the white flight that followed Brown v. Board of Education’s integration mandate the same year, is a pattern we live with today.
Simply put, ostensibly universal programs have no less potential to exacerbate inequality than to ameliorate it. Treating people who are situated differently as if they were the same can result in much greater inequities.
What if we want to raise everyone up, so we use the metaphor of the structure of a rising tide? It turns out that some folks may not have a boat and the rising tide does not raise them up but instead drowns them. Consider the universal goal of getting everyone out of New Orleans as the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina. The strategy was: get in your vehicle and drive to safety. But as it turned out many people, a disproportionate many of whom were African American, did not have cars. The universal strategy -- safety for all -- turned out to not be attainable for many.How do we define targeted universalism?
We can understand this idea if we think of individuals who are in a wheelchair trying to reach an upper floor. An escalator will not support those individuals in the same way as it would those who are able-bodied. It is not the disabled group that needs fixing, but the structure. The goal is to convey everyone to the upper floor and it is universal. But the strategy to achieve this goal must be targeted toward the disabled individuals to address their circumstances, which differ from those of other groups.
The term is generally credited to Theda Skocpol, a sociologist/political scientist at Harvard University. From her webpage: Skocpol’s research focuses on health reform, social policy, and civic engagement amidst the shifting inequalities in American democracy.
In the book, The Urban Underclass, she argues that there is a tension between groups over targeted programs, for example, for the poor.
This standoff certainly exists as long as we remain at the level of logical or highly speculative arguments. Yet three conclusions can be drawn by examining the history of public policies dealing with, or including, poor people in the U.S.This is interesting as Dr. Skocpol was talking about targeting WITHIN an initiative to aid sub-groups and not necessarily creating a whole other initiative. It’s a worthy consideration in terms of both cost and efficacy.
First, when U.S. antipoverty efforts have featured policies targeted on the poor alone, they have not been politically sustainable, and they have stigmatized and demeaned the poor.
Second, some kinds of relatively universal social policies have been politically very successful.
Third, room has been made within certain universal policy frameworks for extra benefits and services that disproportional help less privileged people without stigmatizing them. What I shall call “targeting within universalism” has delivered extra benefits and special services to certain poor people throughout the history of modern American social provision, and new versions of it could be devised today to revitalize and redirect U.S. public social provision.
However, there is not a lot of variation in what people who use the term for public education understand it to mean. Here are a couple of definitions.
From the March/April 2009 issue of Poverty and Race at the Poverty and Race Research Action Council:
Targeting within universalism means identifying a problem, particularly one suffered by marginalized people, proposing a solution, and then broadening its scope to cover as many people as possible.That turns the traditional route to a large-scale problem – to cover as many people as possible first – on its head, saying target the most needy and it will end up covering more people as you see positive outcomes.
An alternative to either a straight universal program or a solely particularistic program is to pursue what we call “targeted universalism.” This is an approach that supports the needs of the particular while reminding us that we are all part of the same social fabric. Targeted universalism rejects a blanket universal which is likely to be indifferent to the reality that different groups are situated differently relative to the institutions and resources of society. It also rejects the claim of formal equality that would treat all people the same as a way of denying difference.From the National Equity Project:
A targeted universal strategy is one that is inclusive of the needs of both the dominant and the marginal groups, but pays particular attention to the situation of the marginal group.One thing that I believe is striking is that these definitions do not necessarily say that the targeting has to be to one group. They speak of “groups” repeatedly.
Targeted universalism rejects a blanket universal which is likely to be indifferent to the reality that different groups are situated differently relative to the institutions and resources of society. It also rejects the claim of formal equality that would treat all people the same as a way of denying difference. Any proposal would be evaluated by the outcome, not just the intent. While the effort would be universal for the poor, it would be especially sensitive to the most marginal groups.
One good article I found that used targeted universalism (but for health care) was Making Health Equity Work: How to Implement Targeted Universalism Policies from the Leadership for Health Communities by Stephen Menendian, JD, Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society.
One slide had these easy-to-read/comprehend steps for implementing targeted universalism:
1. Articulate a particular goal based upon a robust understanding and analysis of the problem at handInterestingly, they DID have a section as it applies to education (see pages 9-13 where they break it down from a big picture to smaller and smaller groups – this makes more sense to me.)
2. Assess difference of general population from universal goal
3. Assess particular geographies and population segments divergence from goal
4. Assess barriers to achieving the goal for each group/geography
5. Craft targeted processes to each group to reach universal goal
This brings us to the example that the district seems to be pivoting from –Oakland Unified School District. Living Cities has a good series of articles in a series about equity in collective impact that includes the Oakland program.
They talk about the courage of the OUSD to focus on color because of the meme that we should not see race but rather just see children needing to be educated. As well, they raise the issue of the legalities of using public resources to target a certain racial group.
What’s interesting is that they make quite a point about using disaggregated data to track outcomes. I find this surprising because I would have hoped, by 2016, that all school districts were doing this across all data points like race, gender, ethnicity, etc. Apparently not.
They also note the issue of “community voice and data gaps” whereby many smaller ethnic communities are often not sought out for their thoughts and concerns.
When leaders of public systems and members of marginalized communities regularly work together, they jointly can increase understanding and create better targeted strategies to improve the outcomes of those who face the greatest barriers to thriving.When I am out in the community, this is a theme I increasingly hear. I think this quite important because we need to acknowledge the ethnic differences within a race (between native-born African-Americans and immigrant blacks.) This is something that the SPS presentation does not address and that’s troubling.
As well, the big umbrella of “Asian” certainly does not cover the differences among all Asian groups.
Lastly, the article speaks of “an equity lens in public systems.”
For example, when partners in the Oakland-Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative were designing their plan to reconnect opportunity youth to education and family-sustaining career employment, they asked “Which opportunity youth face the greatest barriers to re-connection?” From that conversation came a particular focus on cross-over youth – young people who have been involved in both the child welfare and juvenile or criminal justice systems.Back to John Powell and his basic question that could be asked for Seattle’s proposal:
Important questions about My Brother’s Keeper have been raised. Even those who undoubtedly care about men and boys of color have questioned, “But why this group and not others?” Some may acknowledge that there is a strong case that black boys need focused support, but also ask, “What about girls and women of color?” We can continue to add to that line of questioning, “What about white girls and women? What about the disabled? What about any group that through no fault of their own find themselves struggling to stay in their homes, afford higher education or keep their families on track?”I’m not sure the second paragraph answers the first.
These are important and legitimate questions, and they deserve to be answered. The government, in using its resources—including its moral authority—has an obligation to all of its members, not just to some. When it focuses on some and not all, we need an explanation as to why. What must inform our policies is not equal treatment, but equal concern for all groups and individuals. A plan that focuses on everyone, without recognizing that different groups are in unique situations and need responses appropriate to their position, will fail at delivering equal concern or effective outcomes.
Here’s what Oakland Unified School District writes about its own program.
The Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA) works to engage, encourage, and empower African American male students throughout the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).I found that the Oakland webpage on their program to be a lot shorter and easier to read than what the district is presenting. As well, I see some overlap in what the district seems to be proposing to do with what Oakland has.
The Office of African American Male Achievement was launched in 2010 and creates the systems, structures, and spaces that guarantee success for all African American male students in OUSD.
I note this:
In 2010, the superintendent, together with Oakland's Board of Education, the Urban Strategies Council, and the East Bay Community Foundation, examined longitudinal data and came to a jarring conclusion: Past initiatives had done little to transform the experiences, access, or educational attainment of African American male students. Regardless of the reform or learning theory or even school site, en masse, the educational needs of Black children were not being met.
And there you have what is NOT in this presentation – a look at what had gone before in Oakland.They go on:
Data revealed that African American males were the furthest away from opportunity. (On every positive indicator of success, African American boys were consistently in the lowest position while on every negative indicator African American boys were consistently in the highest position.) OUSD's theory of action, Targeted Universalism, ascertains that by transforming the system to support successful outcomes for OUSD's lowest performing subgroup, OUSD can create a district that improves academic and social-emotional outcomes for all students.A couple of things. While the first part of that paragraph may be true in Oakland, for academic outcomes in SPS, that’s not true. Looking at the district’s own data, Native American students and Hispanic students come out lower in some academic data points than do African-American students.
Second, the latter part of the paragraph is the first time in my research I see “targeted universalism” linked to just one group. (If anyone else can lead me to other research with that linkage, I would appreciate it. I found one on just single mothers but that’s one gender across multiple races.)
As I said in the first part of this two-part thread, besides not reviewing past initiatives, SPS also put no price tag on this effort nor where the money would come from. Oakland has a long list of funders. Funders
It’s great to reach out to multiple community groups for input but if the weight of this program is solely on the district, that’s has to be a consideration. There’s a dynamic tension in any district between fiscal constraints and the quest for better outcomes.
I also reviewed the outcomes of Oakland’s program which they also have available.
Testing for 10th grade African-American students shows slightly more passing both parts of the state test (from 36.5% to 37.3%) with the rate of not passing both went from 51.6% down to 46.7%) but the did “not take” went up from 11.9% to 15.9%.