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Nine Ways to Upgrade Equity in our Schools

Nine Ways to Upgrade Equity in our Schools

Changes in curriculum and grading policies can go a long way in helping a school level the playing field for all students. For the first time in my 16-year career as a school administrator, I feel like we’re finally starting to get to a place where we’re having honest conversations across the country about discovering diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti Racism in education.

In late 2020, the Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD) met via webinar to review the topic of racial equity in schools. Panelists included school captains from our shape and across the country. The lessons learned that day had shaped my actions regarding equity throughout this school year. I am a 49-year-old white educator, and I understand my privilege in this system. However, regardless of my role or experience in education, I have to listen, learn and grow. I want to share what I learned from that session to help other educators striving to provide students with a more equitable education.

We have to start by bearing a whole child process. We must understand that the needs of our students come before the curriculum or the standards. To do this, we must get out of our comfort zone and into a place of discomfort to accept students no matter how they present themselves at school. Having these conversations with students will make them comfortable with the endless possibilities of who they are and where they are in their educational journey.

It is difficult for us to realize that some of the work we have been doing for a long time has only helped some students and not all students. What’s more challenging is that sometimes we’re unsure how to break that cycle. These strategies from our group will help you get formed.

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9 Ways to Improve Equity in Your Building

1. Hire a director of equity and diversity. 

When a district has explicit leadership to champion equity and diversity, the initiative will come from a position of authority and have the necessary follow-through to build momentum and long-term success.

2. Eliminate providing students with a zero for late work. 

Allow students to turn in positions late to earn a percentage of the topics. Zeros or multiple zeros for late work are incurably harmful to students. We do not know the situation of the students or the support at home. If the goal is to learn, allow flexibility when needed. Also, allow students to redo an assignment. Again, if the goal is to know, why do we give them a chance and keep them on a low rating? This pattern leads to frustration and eventual abandonment.

3. Eliminate prerequisites for Honors and Advanced Placement classes. 

Having barriers to entry removes many black and brown students from higher, more challenging courses. Judge students on their potential and use honors and AP as opportunities to identify kids who can make that educational leap. Take a moment to talk with students apiece. Interview them as a way to train them and tell them, “Listen, you can do this job.” Our panel has seen firsthand where students who would not traditionally do well in those courses excel with support, individual motivation, and encouragement.

4. Move toward standards-based grading. 

Moving to this practice will focus on student learning and growth rather than the student identifying with a number or letter. Fully understanding that institutes need student transcripts, we promote standards-based grading whenever doable. This practice will level the playing field, so students focus on a learning journey, not a final grade.

5. Increase staff training. 

Having sessions led by internal staff will bring passion and relevance to the movement. If you don’t have a person public for this, try bringing in educators from outside your school. You may want to start the year with a keynote address on equity that gets followed up at faculty meetings.

6. Review hiring practices. 

Check the websites where district jobs are listed and which college campuses you visit to recruit. Change your recruiting and interviewing process if you’re not getting candidates of color. Also, check out how it filters resumes. Too often, we look at what college someone attended, not the individual—charter talent where you can see it.

7. Disaggregate performance data. 

Looking at school and district data as an average can show that the school is on par or successful. However, take a deeper look at each struggling student. We cannot look at the whole picture of the data without looking at the parts. Every student counts, regardless of school standing.

8. Review the resume. 

Look at the curriculum to ensure all students see themselves reflected in it. Updating the curriculum to reflect its current population will allow students to feel connected to it, increase learning opportunities, and increase content retention and engagement.

9. Engage students in conversation.

Take a look at your school/classroom culture to see if it is closing conversations about racial equity in the classroom. Request yourself, “Is there space for children to have these chats?” Ask black and brown graduates about their academic experiences and thoughts on the curriculum. Increasing student conversations is critical because the person who speaks is the person who learns.

Increasing student conversation about racial equity can be difficult for educators at first. Ensure educators’ strategies for engaging in these conversations with students are part of the staff professional development listed above. Empowering educators to respond with “I hear you” will demonstrate that you value students’ voices. Our students require incentives and comfort to support them during their academic journey.

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