How equity is acknowledged, understood and incorporated into an entity’s school structures has an impact on the success of equitable practices and programs on student opportunity and, therefore, achievement.
Typically, districts and other school entities have acknowledged, understood and incorporated equity into their school structure along the following continuum:
- The first three system approaches understand equity as an emerging need and challenge. The fourth approach acknowledges equity as a necessity to eliminate barriers to opportunities for students to learn.
- The first three system approaches may include only the voices of a few. The fourth approach intentionally includes the voices of all, specifically the voices of those who have been disadvantaged, ignored or marginalized.
- The first three system approaches begin to recognize and identify the need for systemic change. The fourth approach acknowledges that the current system is not working for all children, therefore requiring systemic re–evaluation and transformation.
Where does your district or school entity exist on the continuum?
Approach One: Equity as a misunderstanding
In this approach, equity is not yet defined, understood, or shared by most school leaders. School leaders often confuse equity with equality or equity with nondiscrimination. There is a distinct difference. Equality is treating all students the same and giving them the same supports. Nondiscrimination promotes equal opportunity and treatment for all students and staff based on local, state or national identifiers such as race, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or handicap/disability. However, equity is the just and fair distribution of resources based upon each individual student’s needs. A focus on equality alone does not address the different and often inequitable experiences and opportunities of students inside and outside of the classroom. Equity is often discussed in compliance to state and national laws and policies that mention equity, but equity is not yet an integral part of the entity’s conversation or practice throughout.
For example, districts or other school entities implement practices and programs that focus on compliance of nondiscrimination and civil rights state and federal laws and policies (i.e., IDEA, ESSA, Title I, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act). Due to these laws, the district is starting the process of identifying the needs of students, the barriers students face, and the academic and opportunity disparities between students. Yet, equity conversations may be had among administrators or among different groups in the community, but not at the school board, staff and teacher level. The next step is to adequately define equity and include all stakeholders in the conversation.
Approach Two: Equity as a topic
In this approach, equity is just beginning to be identified as an important aspect of the school system. School leaders know the difference between equity and equality. Yet, equity is a distinct topic held within the education system, just like curriculum, teacher preparation, transportation, school discipline, etc. They understand the importance of equity, but they approach equity as separate from every other aspect of their education practice and system. There is a focus on equity as it pertains to certain subject matters (generally, the subjects with equity in the title) or groups of students (generally, discussions of race or poverty), but it is overlooked in others.
For example, districts or other school entities identify digital equity, teacher equity and inequitable funding matters as equity. This is an important step — the next step will be to build on these discussions and recognize how equity impacts other aspects of the education system.
Approach Three: Equity as a recommendation
In this approach, equity influences aspects of the education system but is not yet incorporated into the structure of the education system. Equity serves as a recommendation for school leaders and begins to inform decision-making and practices for those who choose to focus on equity principles (cultural proficiency, inclusion), but it is not yet widely infused into the foundation of the school entity.
For example, districts or other school entities develop an equity group, or hire an equity director to deal with the inequities in school discipline practices, curriculum development or school programs, but the group and/or director is not empowered to make substantive changes to the education system. Equity groups and/or directors are seen as advisors; the next important step is to empower them to be decision-makers.
Approach Four. Equity as the foundation
In this approach, equity is the foundation that frames every aspect of the educational system such as curriculum, instruction, professional development, family and community engagement, and school climate. The practice of equity is shared by every education stakeholder, and school leaders approach every decision, practice and policy with an equity lens.
For example, districts or other school entities incorporate equity into the school structure through action plans and policies that set a collective direction and hold them accountable. Districts are in constant pursuit of equity. They seek to grow knowledge, build capacity, train school leaders and staff, implement best practices, include diverse voices, and produce community partners to eliminate barriers and create opportunities for students to learn.