Era of equity: 10 priorities for reinventing schools

'How can we transform what has not been working for children ... into a more equitable and empowering future?'

Restarting schools this year provides superintendents and their teams an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent K-12 instruction by prioritizing equity to close persistent achievement gaps, says a new report from a leading education think tank.

The Learning Policy Institute’s report, “Restarting and Reinventing School: Learning in the Time of COVID and Beyond,” lays out a framework that education leaders can adopt to “support equitable, effective teaching and learning regardless of the medium through which that takes place.”

“In a historical moment when we have more knowledge about human development and learning, when society and the economy demand a more challenging set of skills, and when—at least in our rhetoric—there is a greater social commitment to equitable education, it is time to use the huge disruptions caused by this pandemic to reinvent our systems of education,” the authors of the report wrote.

“How can we transform what has not been working for children and for our society into a more equitable and empowering future?”

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Here are of the Learning Policy Institute’s priorities for reinventing education:

1. How to close the digital divide: Because of the economic strain on states, educators and policymakers should prioritize federal efforts to close the digital divide. Education leaders can also work to expand broadband access through state and city initiatives.

Still, states and districts will need to survey students’ device needs and partner with service providers to provide devices and hot spots in bulk.

2. Strengthen distance and blended learning: Administrators should for models developed by “pioneering” districts such as Miami-Dade County Public Schools and California’s Lindsay USD.

Effective online learning combines live student-teacher interaction and interactive multimedia materials that support projects can complete at home.

Administrators must develop standards for digital learning that move away from traditional “drill and kill” approaches. Educators should also consider a shift from measuring seat time to engagement.

3. Assess what students need: School leaders should conduct surveys to determine what students and staff have been experiencing over the last several months.

They should also prioritize formative assessments—which illuminate student growth and provide actionable feedback—over summative assessments. This approach should be combined with personalized growth strategies for each student.

Holding students back or tracking them for remedial instruction can undermine achievement, the researchers say.

4. Support social-emotional learning: Social and emotional skills should be taught explicitly at every grade level.

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Educators must schedule time for morning meetings and advisories during which students can practice mindfulness and other strategies for managing stress and emotions.

Discipline reform, such as restorative justice, is a key component of SEL. The report cautions that SEL programs will not foster long-term growth for students in environments that are authoritarian, punitive, and exclusionary.

5. Redesign schools for stronger relationships: Schools that foster caring and continuity in student-teacher relationships are better able to address trauma and raise. achievemen.t

As schools reopen, educators and policymakers should establish small mentored groups of students and teachers that stay together.

To strengthen partnerships with families, teachers can consider making virtual home visits and dedicate time at the start of the year for intentional community building that’s focused on tolerance and inclusion.

6. Emphasize culturally responsive learning: Students are more motivated and engaged when students can explore the world around and apply what they’ve experienced back to the classroom.

Schools and districts can develop a culturally responsive curriculum by using students’ experiences as a foundation for building knowledge.

More from DA: Why solving real-world problems is key to online learning

Administrators should also provide staff with professional development that addresses implicit bias and focuses on proactive approaches to anti-racist practice.

7. Expand learning time: Leaders should consider infusing high-quality tutoring during and outside the school day.

Educators should also enhance after-school and summer programs and align them with the school’s learning goal. This includes teaching content that is connected to students’ cultural backgrounds and lives outside of school.

Administrators should also work to expand the reach and duration of early learning programs.

The Learning Policy Institute’s remaining priorities can be found here.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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