Innovative Solutions for Closing the Equity Gap

By Alexander Berg-Jacobson, Judith Ennis, and Jillian Reynolds, GTL Center Staff, Dec 04, 2014

What should be front and center when we think about the education of future generations and the future of our country? The Education Trust 2014 National Conference, titled “Become The Change: Closing Gaps in Opportunity and Achievement,” unpacked that question with engaging sessions on the challenges affecting students from low-income families, students of color, and their schools.

In her opening remarks, Education Trust president Kati Haycock set the stage by describing our country’s declining social mobility and underscoring how educational equity can catalyze change. Other sessions spotlighted some of the biggest challenges to closing the equity gap and offered innovative, field-tested solutions. Some favorites follow:

School Leadership

Many presenters emphasized the importance of school leadership in promoting educational excellence and improving student outcomes. At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark and Learning Community Executive Director Trish Sexton are implementing an innovative principal pipeline process. Key features are partnerships with institutions of higher education and aligned professional development for new principals.

Best practices shared by a panel of principals from California, Florida, and New York include supporting teachers through professional learning opportunities and building more coherent school systems. They urged principals to use data-driven evidence to identify where additional support is needed and emphasized that cultivating a collegial and coherent professional atmosphere for school staff requires information-sharing systems, clear expectations, and open-door policies.

Student Discipline

A key feature in the national conversation is the disproportionate disciplinary treatment of students based on race and ethnicity. In one session, Dr. Ann Gregory, associate professor, at Rutgers University, emphasized that social perceptions of defiance may lead to the disproportionate targeting of African-American boys for disciplinary action, with real consequences for these students’ success in school. (See Indiana University’s Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative for more information about improving equity in school discipline.) Dr. Gregory also mentioned  an innovative program addressing disproportionate discipline called My Teaching Partner, which has produced positive results. Its key components include a video library of best practices, a college course that helps teachers improve their skills for interacting with students in the classroom, and Web-mediated individualized coaching.

School Funding

School funding is a major policy lever to promote students’ equitable access to resources. One panel at the conference chronicled the journey of San Bernardino City Unified School District, under California’s new funding law , to reorganize funding priorities based on student needs. The most significant force behind this district’s planning process was insightful stakeholder input, which ultimately shaped the district budget. More important, high levels of ongoing community commitment led to the successful implementation of the plan. By including parents and the community early and authentically, the San Bernardino district exemplifies the power of engaging stakeholders. (See the GTL Center’s Moving Toward Equity Stakeholder Engagement Guide for detailed guidance on engaging stakeholders in developing a Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators for All Students).

What Else Can Be Done?

Our team was inspired by the lessons and experiences shared by the conference speakers, panelists, and participants. The formidable challenge of reducing gaps in equitable access to a quality education can be overcome only through collective action. By gathering people from so many different types of organizations to share their commitment to ensuring excellent teaching and leading for all students, The Education Trust has taken a large step toward helping forge the partnerships needed to address critical education issues in the long term.

One key element of equity is equitable access to excellent educators for all students. This past July, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Excellent Educators for All Initiative, which requires states to submit plans to ensure that students of color and students from low-income families are not taught by less experienced and less qualified teachers at higher rates than other students. This Initiative goes beyond previous calls to action by emphasizing the significance of stakeholder engagement and data analysis to drill down to the root causes of equity gaps. Our hope is that the solutions surfacing at this conference will help participants and others confront equity gaps in their own communities and states. We at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders are deeply committed to this work and look forward to partnering with states and districts through the use of our Equitable Access Toolkit and direct technical assistance.

Now it’s your turn. We want to hear your thoughts:

  • Have equity gaps been identified in your state? Within your districts?
  • What would it take to build a coalition of stakeholders to engage in this work? 

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