Critical race theory is not a topic being taught in Oswego School District 308 classrooms, an administrator said Monday night.
Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist addressed the topic during an update and presentation on the district’s Climate for Learning Framework at the district’s Sept. 13 meeting of the Board of Education. During her presentation, Dahlquist laid out the differences between two concepts that often go by the same abbreviation, “CRT” — critical race theory and culturally responsive instruction/teaching.
In her presentation, Dahlquist said that critical race theory, sometimes referred to as “CRT”, is a “very complex topic and is reserved for higher levels of education, often in graduate school.
“The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.
“Critical race theory is not being taught in SD308,” Dahlquist said.
Culturally responsive instruction/teaching, also often referred to as “CRT”, is being utilized in OSD 308, Dahlquist said.
Culturally responsive teaching, Dahlquist said, is “an instructional strategy that involves teachers getting to know their students, setting high expectations, and tailoring instruction to be engaging and relevant to each student.”
In her presentation, Dahlquist showcased examples of how culturally responsive teaching is being utilized in district classrooms, including through literacy and mathematics.
Dahlquist cited district data showing that female students outperform male students in literacy, and white students score higher than Black and Hispanic students.
Instructional practices can be adapted, Dahlquist said, to ensure that lessons involve and engage male students, as well as Black and Hispanic students, to raise their scores without lowering the scores of other demographics.
In math classes, Dahlquist said that practices can be addressed to ensure all students have the opportunity for success and challenges, and that problems used in math classes “are relevant and engaging to our students.”
District data showed that male students often outperform female students in mathematics, while students from lower income households tend to perform at a lower level on standardized tests than students who live in higher income households. Practices can be examined, Dahlquist said, adding more discussion work and math vocabulary into classes, engaging students that are underperforming.
Dahlquist told the board that culturally responsive teaching is important is to ensure that all students feel that they have a trusted adult at school.
“If we have students at school that do not have one trusted adult ... we can put all the great instructional practices in place, but if you’re not coming to a community that you feel accepts you and you have somebody to trust, it’s not going to happen,” Dahlquist said. “We also have to be responsive to that need about building relationships and feeling connected.”
Board member Jennifer Johnson said that a concern among parents she has interacted with is that the district’s practice of Social Emotional Learning is a secret vessel used to bring the teaching of critical race theory into the classroom.
Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, according to the district website, “is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations constructively.”
In OSD 308, SEL standards are “embedded” into classrooms for students to learn, practice and apply, the website continued.
“When SEL skills are taught and reinforced in a safe, caring, and inclusive climate for learning, students experience improved mental wellness, increased school connectedness, positive behavior and improved academic outcomes.”
In response to Johnson’s question, Dahlquist explained that SEL standards set by the state are available through the district’s website, adding “You won’t see things in there that are related to critical race theory at all.”
“Social Emotional Learning is not something new, we’ve always talked about the importance to having rules, to talk about how we would set goals for short-term and long-term, how to manage your own emotions, how to understand someone else’s perspective, how to take care of your own physical and mental health and know ways to destress,” Dahlquist said.
“All of those things are critical pieces of Social Emotional Learning that didn’t have anything to do with critical race theory.”