Stuck Improving

Stuck Improving Racial Equity and School Leadership

Decoteau J. Irby
paper, 264 Pages
Pub. Date: September 2021
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-657-5
Price: $34.00

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An incisive case study of changemaking in action, Stuck Improving analyzes the complex process of racial equity reform within K–12 schools. Scholar Decoteau J. Irby emphasizes that racial equity is dynamic, shifting as our emerging racial consciousness evolves and as racism asserts itself anew. Those who accept the challenge of reform find themselves “stuck improving,” caught in a perpetual dilemma of both making progress and finding ever more progress to be made. Rather than dismissing stuckness as failure, Irby embraces it as an inextricable part of the improvement process.


Stuck Improving is a book that is useful to practitioners and scholars alike, and it is just what the field needs: a practical guide for how to grow equity capacity in organizations at every level. We no longer need to guess about what practices will lead to sustainable equity, and Indigenous, Black, and Brown students can finally realize the humanization and quality education in school that they have long deserved. This is a field-shifting book. — Muhammad Khalifa, professor of educational administration, The Ohio State University, and president/CEO, Culturally Responsive School Leadership

I have long been a fan of Decoteau Irby’s work in the areas of equity and dignity for communities, families, and students of color. In Stuck Improving, he looks at the other side of equity—that of those who work to ensure it. With tremendous implications on research and practice, Irby offers a useful framework for racial equity improvement for those on the ‘frontlines’ of equity to become ‘unstuck.’ — Noelle W. Arnold, senior associate dean, The Ohio State University

Using case-study analysis, Irby analyzes the complex, multi-faceted, contextual elements composing racial equity initiatives at Central Waters High School (CWHS), a large suburban high school. By examining local experiences along with the proposed organization framework, Irby paints a picture of the beautiful messiness that occurs in stubborn change, when one step forward may mean two steps back. Though many examples are situational, readers will take away conceptual strategies to explore in their own contexts. — Choice Magazine

Stuck Improving is an unapologetic critique of the culture of white supremacy informing school organizations and leaders. Irby's powerful positionality discursively shifts the deficit-framing of Black and brown students’ educational experiences. — Teachers College Record

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About the Author

Decoteau J. Irby is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he teaches and advises in the College’s Urban Education Leadership program. His academic research explores how equity-focused school leadership improves Black children’s and youth’s educational experiences and outcomes and appears in journals such as Urban Education, International Journal of Multicultural Education, Studies in Educational Evaluation, Educational Administration Quarterly, Equity & Excellence in Education, Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, Urban Review, and Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. Outside of his academic life, he enjoys spending time with his children and partner, playing guitar, traveling, and writing songs and short stories.

Table of Contents


Race and Education Series

Blog Post: "Counting Joy in School-Based Racial Equity Work"

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Hope and Healing

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