UW–Madison policy report on LGBTQ+ students’ well-being and inclusive practices honored by American Educational Research Association

By Laurel White

A policy report from UW–Madison researchers that examined the efficacy of a Wisconsin school district’s programs for supporting LGBTQ+ students has been honored by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). 

For the report, researchers partnered with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) to look at how several district-wide initiatives aimed at supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or other non-straight, non-cisgender (LGBTQ+) students have contributed to changes in school-level academics and disciplinary actions. The report also provided the district with an analysis of school climate and health outcomes for LGBTQ+ students compared to their straight, cisgender peers. The report was just named the AERA’s Outstanding Policy Report in the educational policy and politics division. The award will be presented at the AERA annual meeting in Chicago next month.

Mollie McQuillan

Mollie McQuillan, an assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, co-authored the report with two UW–Madison doctoral students, Xue Gong and Erin Gill, and two MMSD staff.  

McQuillan says they hope the report about initiatives in Madison will help shed light on how any school district could work toward more effectively supporting LGBTQ+ students in school settings. 

“While we have seen an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ practices and policies in the last few years, our MMSD findings suggest inclusive practices may benefit all students in the school, not just LGBTQ+ students,” McQuillan says. “This is an important finding for all district leaders interested in meeting the needs of all their students. We also find students, their families, and educators have asked for more inclusive practices as the number of students comfortable with LGBTQ+ identities come out.”

For the report, McQuillan and their co-authors examined several years of district program evaluation and procedural tracking data, as well as state discipline reports and school report cards and a county-level youth opinion survey. The report found MMSD students identify with LGBTQ+ labels at far higher rates than national estimates and report better school climate. However, it also noted transgender and gender nonconforming students report similar levels of poor school experiences and suicidality when compared to national surveys. 

The report offered several recommendations for better supporting LGBTQ+ students, including expanding and offering equitable access to inclusivity professional development for educators and offering gender and sexuality peer support groups for students.

Suzanne Eckes, the Susan S. Engeleiter Professor in Education in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, nominated the report for its AERA honor. In her nomination letter, Eckes said the report examines a significant educational policy issue and that it has “already begun to make an impact at the local, state, and national levels.”

“This report exemplifies the highest standards of research quality,” she wrote.

Eckes noted MMSD has already enacted several of the suggestions outlined in the report and that it has been used during several student-led advocacy initiatives and shared nationally as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools annual report.

The policy report’s research was funded by the Madison Education Partnership, a research-practice partnership between the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and MMSD.

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