The current conversations around race and equity in America have motivated us all to reexamine the way we think about opportunity, bias, and social challenges in our country.
Ample evidence confirms opportunity gaps are prevalent outside of school—children are impacted by inequities along racial lines long before they arrive to their classrooms on the first day of school.
From there, far too often, the situation does not improve.
Newer research confirms what we already knew: that schools, rather than minimizing gaps, further widen them. Adults in schools can exacerbate inequities by the choices they make, such as which students are placed into higher- or lower-level classes or which students are given suspensions.
And far too often, low-income students and students of color are met with low expectations, below grade-level assignments, and remedial instruction. Students can only do as well as the assignments and instruction that they are given. By making assumptions about whether certain students can or can’t learn challenging content, adults unjustly make the decision on students’ behalf to close the doors on their future.
These choices have long-lasting repercussions on student outcomes.
To reverse the trend, advocacy work must continue to change policies at the state and federal level so that districts and schools have equitable access to resources and supports. But there also needs to be a shift in how leaders and educators think about equity within schools.
Every school, regardless of its demographic or socioeconomic composition, should be focused on giving students the individual support they need to reach their potential.
Equity work, then, cannot be limited to a simple program or practice. Instead, everything that happens during the school day should be done through an equity lens, requiring schools to shift from changing student behavior and mindsets to changing systems and adult mindsets.
Years of research from high-performing schools has shown that with the right leader and the right systems in place, it is possible to give students an equitable education. But how do we move beyond research and frameworks and begin implementing changes within schools?
In our latest report, “Advancing Equity in Schools: From Replicating Inequities to Eliminating Them,” we shared how we focus on changing systems and adults to transform schools so that students can realize their true potential.
While each of the schools and leaders profiled in the report are at different stages in their schoolwide improvement and transformation process, they all offer powerful examples of how to take action in delivering equity in education by changing systems, structures, and adult mindsets.
Dr. Catherine Burns
Chief Academic Officer
Executive Director of IDEA
Principal of Navigator-Watsonville Prep School