Scholars of Urban Education Gather for Solutions-Based Conference

At the biennial International Conference on Urban Education (ICUE) Dr. Chance W. Lewis offered just one directive to the more than 500 participants who gathered in Cancun from Wednesday through Saturday. Every workshop, presentation, plenary session, he said, must include some solutions-based outcomes.

That's been a requirement for Lewis, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the executive director of the university's Urban Education Collaborative, since the conference first launched in 2014.

Dr. Chance W. LewisDr. Chance W. LewisThe conference, Lewis said, is aimed at creating a vision that allows for researchers and practitioners to strategize on how best to "make a difference in the space of allowing students to reach their full academic potential. That is why we're here today," he said.

Over 270 sessions were offered at the conference, including a keynote address by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, one of the world's most prolific educational researchers. Ladson-Billings is Professor Emerita and former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The widening racial disparities between Blacks and whites is dramatic, noted Ladson-Billings, who pointed out that in 2019, about 30% of Black children lived in poverty, with 1 and 4 Black children facing severe food insecurity. With regard to public schools, she noted that 45% of Black students attend high-poverty schools compared to 8% of white children.

During the COVID pandemic, a number of Black children were only able to access the internet through their smart phones.

"Think about remote learning," she said, adding that children struggled to receive their lessons via a small phone screen. "But that's the reality."

Additionally, Ladson-Billings noted that 75% of Black students who are considered eligible for advanced placement (AP) courses never take one, in part because so many of these students are enrolled in schools where these accelerated courses are not even offered.

"They're bright enough, but there's no access," she said, adding that too many Black students are frequently discouraged from achieving their full potential by schoolteachers and administrators, even as suspension and expulsion rates for Black children steadily inclines.

Ladson-Billings pushed scholars writing about urban education to make their work more accessible to broader audiences.

"We need to be talking to the African American newspaper in town. We need to be talking to people in our churches about what we are doing," she said, chiding scholars for engaging too often in what she called "unintelligible language filled with jargon and is overly stylized as if we are attempting to sound smart."

Scholars researching and writing about urban schools and underserved students have to do a better job at forging stronger relationships with the communities that they purport to study, said many of the practitioners who attended the conference.

"We can't just talk to each other," Ladson-Billings added.

Other sessions explored a wide range of topics, including a session titled, "Developing Advocates Capable of Supporting Black Families with Children with Disabilities: A Design Study Approach," to "The African American Male PreK-College Presidency Educational Pipeline: Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Research," that was moderated by Dr. Jamal Watson and included Lewis, and Drs. Jerlando F. L. Jackson, Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University; and LaVar Charleston, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.