5 practices for creating more equitable education

'School systems are flush with creative delivery models invented on the fly without the usual rules and conventions'
By: | April 14, 2021

Post-COVD buzzwords such as new normal, reimagined schools and transformation amount only to “tinkering at the edges,” to a Columbia University think tank focused on fuller K-12 equity.

“How might we design an education system that prepares every child, of every race and background, to thrive in school and in life?” is the theme of the “RISE to Thrive” report by the Center for Public Research and Leadership at Columbia University.

RISE stands for “Realize Individualized Student-centered Education” in the report, whose authors collected the input of 300 students, families, educators, organizers, community members, and education leaders during the pandemic.

“School systems are flush with creative delivery models invented on the fly without the usual rules and conventions,” the authors wrote. “With stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan entering the system, the time is now to tackle long-standing system flaws that stand in the way of learning and equity.”

The report lays out five principles for educators who hope to redesign their schools:

1. Focus on equity to reach equality and justice. Because opportunity gaps arise before students enter kindergarten and persist through school, educators must partner with families to personalize learning for each child. While tracking progress, educators should identify what works for each student and what to change. Customization to context and need—not uniformity—create equitable opportunities and equal outcomes.

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2. Learning is the constant; operations, instruction, and time are the variables. Instruction should focus on student mastery and wellbeing. Class schedules, staffing structures, instructional materials, assessment practices, and enrichment opportunities can also play a role in the growth of students who have been underserved. Educators must also participate in professional development and assess their practices to get better at supporting all students and their diverse needs.

3. Getting better requires democratic participation and partnership with families, students, and communities. Schools and districts should work to break down walls between staff and families by confronting existing biases. Educators should invite families to participate in shaping their children’s learning and their schools.
“Meaningful participation begets more participation, and all students and families succeed in the classroom and beyond,” the report says.

4. Effective (not best) practices drive student learning. Schools should cling to practices that must be applied uniformly. Educators should recognize that what works is specific to context and that contexts change. They must continually measure the effectiveness of these practices.

5. Student opportunity and learning must traverse traditional boundaries. To expand opportunity and access, district leaders must “constantly break down barriers of convenience, convention, contract, and geography.” Educators can use technology to connect students back to their communities and to peers and educators across the city, region, state, and globe.