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Stanford GSE approves major change in program on race, inequality and language

July 28, 2017
By Carrie Spector
Arnetha Ball
Arnetha Ball directs the new cross-disciplinary program that studies issues of race, language and inequality in education.
The new cross-disciplinary PhD expands opportunities for students and faculty to study issues of race, inequality and language.

What began in 2012 as a somewhat loosely structured opportunity for education students and faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Education to explore issues of race, language and inequality has now been approved as a cross-disciplinary PhD program.

The program on Race, Inequality and Language in Education (RILE) is one of GSE’s most popular. Students who are accepted into the program pursue one set of courses in their core area—for example, educational policy or economics—and another on issues of race, culture, language and poverty.

Until now, this option was only available to students focused on social sciences, such as history or sociology. Now that RILE has been designated as a cross-disciplinary program, its students and faculty can come from any core area in the GSE, such as teacher education or the developmental sciences.

The program’s transition comes at a propitious time, notes GSE Dean Dan Schwartz. One in four students in the U.S. live in poverty. More than 60 languages are spoken in the homes of California students alone. Meanwhile, developments in data sciences and technology are creating new opportunities for researchers and teachers.

 “Among the great challenges in education today is how to give all learners the opportunity and means to achieve their full potential despite societal, historical or developmental barriers,” Schwartz said.

Working at the intersection of race, language and poverty, RILE scholars will confront this issue head on, as well as train new talent.

“When you tackle the problems of the learners most at risk,” Schwartz said, “you also generate insights that improve education broadly.”

The new designation means more GSE faculty can be affiliated with the program and serve as advisors. “Before, only faculty who were in the social sciences could be faculty in RILE,” said Arnetha Ball, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education and director of the program. “Now we have 26 faculty members across a wide range of disciplines.”

Students enrolled in the program not only take courses,  they also participate in RILE seminars throughout the year. In addition, RILE periodically convenes national and international scholars to share and discuss scholarship on issues of race, inequality, language and education.

In October 2017 the program will host its annual two-day research conference, which is open to teachers, researchers, and graduate students from the community at large.

“The RILE program speaks to critical issues in our field, and will support students in understanding the profound influence of race, inequality, and language on students’ learning, schooling, and development,” said Na’ilah Suad Nasir, president of the Spencer Foundation, and one of the presenters at last year’s RILE conference.

RILE is now the second such cross-disciplinary program at the GSE. The first—Learning Sciences and Technology Design (LSTD), launched in 2002—focuses on the science of learning and the development of innovative educational technologies.