3 major steps to building equity in schools

More districts this summer have created offices of equity, diversity and inclusion
By: | August 27, 2020
A growing number of U.S. teachers are now receiving professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy so they can better connect with students of different backgrounds.(GettyImages/SDI Productions)A growing number of U.S. teachers are now receiving professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy so they can better connect with students of different backgrounds.(GettyImages/SDI Productions)

Superintendents and their teams are taking new actions to boost equity in their districts after school closures and the shift online learning brought greater attention to the disparities some students face.

Some concrete steps have emerged from superintendents who participated in a series of equity talks sponsored this summer by Discovery Education. These sessions will begin again in September.

“This crisis creates opportunity,” says Tedra Clark, research director at the research firm, McREL International, which has highlighted the best practices that emerged from the equity sessions. “We need the leaders of districts and schools to be courageous and focus on innovations to redesign schooling through an equity lens.

Here’s a look at the equity steps superintendents and their leadership teams can take, whether their districts will be in-person or online this school year:

1. Conduct a policy review: More districts this summer have created offices of equity, diversity and inclusion to review and revise inequitable policies.


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Superintendents must give the administrators of these new offices real authority to make changes and also hold them accountable for implementation, says Tara Donahue, McREL’s managing evaluator.

Discipline is one of the first policies many districts leaders are now revising. Leaders are reviewing data to determine whether students of color are being punished disproportionately.

Administrators are also prioritizing student voice to give young people a role in enacting fair policies. In some districts, students have even gained a vote on their school boards, Donahue says.

2. Diverse hiring: More superintendents are setting goals to hire a certain number of teachers of colors by a certain date, Donahue says.

Many of these leaders are also looking to historically Black colleges and universities to recruit teachers, Clark adds.

“They want to make sure the diversity in their teacher workforce represents the diveristy of the students,” Clark says. “Someone with a similar background is better able to relate to the students they teach.”

3. Classrooms and curriculum: One district that participated in the equity talks is now making an African American history course a graduation requirement.

Teachers are also receiving professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy so they can better connect with students of different backgrounds.


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These districts are also networking with each other virtually to share best practices.

“When instruction is culturally responsive, teachers get to know their students well and understand their backgrounds,” Donahue says. “When you connect what students are learning to their real-life experiences, they are more engaged in the process.”

Many administrators are continuing to work to translate in-person approaches—such as collaborative learning—to online learning.

“You have to find innovative ways to connect with students when you’re teaching from a distance,” Clark says. “Students also have to able to communicate with one another, and engage in project-based learning.’