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Aurora Institute

New Educational Equity Resources to Transform Schools and Systems

CompetencyWorks Blog

Competency-based education practices are designed to be more equitable than traditional practices, but equity strategies must still be pursued proactively. At the Aurora Institute’s recent annual field coordination call, we asked three organizations to discuss valuable new resources they developed focused on equity strategies that are aligned with competency-based learning. This blog post provides an overview of the new resources, which focus on inclusive school redesign, diversifying the educator workforce, and transforming assessment and accountability systems.

Building for Equity: A Guide for Inclusive School Redesign

The Building for Equity guide and school self-assessment tool from the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) “provides educators with a framework for driving equity-focused, innovative school change—along with the tools they need to bring this to life in their own school settings.” The guide and toolkit are open resources that are available online.

Diana Lebeaux, CCE’s Director of District and School Design explained that CCE examined what had and had not been effective in their equity work to redesign schools and educational content. They found that “when equity was brought in deliberately and carefully and intentionally at every stage of the process…equitable outcomes were much more likely than when it was an assumed outcome of student-centered practices that was not as intentionally built in.”

Building for Equity Framework
Source: Building for Equity, CCE 2020

CCE developed the Building for Equity guide and toolkit in response to that conclusion. It offers a detailed and well-conceived set of principles, processes, and graphic organizers to facilitate understanding and action. It’s based on the framework shown here and built around a four-step cycle with equity-focused strategies for:

(1) Establishing a strong, inclusive team that “represents the full diversity of the school community”;

(2) Gathering information to understand the community, identify discrete challenges, and understand their root causes;

(3) Envisioning needed changes, with accompanying goals, plans, and partnerships; and

(4) An implementation process with piloting, redesign based on early lessons learned, and setting a long-term action plan.

Lebeaux said that the self-assessment tool has helped many schools determine their readiness for change and set action priorities. They rate their current progress toward creating a culturally responsive, student-centered school on dimensions such as an inclusive school culture, an engaged community, and the faculty’s cultural proficiency. The image below shows three of the self-assessment questions. Another resource for learning about the self-assessment tool is the archived video recording of Lebeaux’s session at the 2020 Aurora Institute Symposium.

Three questions from self-assessment tool
Source: Building for Equity School Self-Assessment Tool, CCE 2020

Invitation to a New Path Forward: Seeking Equity Together Through Assessment and Accountability

This new paper from the Center for Innovation in Education offers a rationale and high-level action plan for expansive, equity-focused change to our assessment and accountability systems—all in just eight inspiring pages. The document was authored by “Jennifer Poon in collaboration with Gene Wilhoit, Paul Leather, Linda Pittenger, and the team at C!E” (their shorthand for the Center for Innovation in Education), a group with deep experience at all levels of the education system. Paul Leather, Director of the Interstate Learning Community, and Doannie Tran, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Strategy Fellow, spoke about the Invitation to A New Path Forward.

Leather explained that equitable assessment systems will require reciprocal accountability, where education systems need to provide sufficient support for participants to meet expectations. The paper emphasizes that this is a key principle in light of the current system, which “largely shrugs at resource disparities like differences in local tax-based revenue and educator experience that are historical consequences of overtly racist policies … thus, historically underserved families feel inappropriately blamed for achievement gaps and are disproportionately punished by them, too.” Within this context, an overreliance on end-of-year state assessments that are misaligned with student needs and schools’ own assessment efforts make the current system inequitable and seen as increasingly irrelevant.

Tran explained that A New Path Forward is based on a “deep belief that community co-creation is a fundamental aspect of designing for equity.” In the current prevailing model, schools are seen as the experts, and communities’ main role is to assent. The proposed new model is reciprocal, with communities seen as experts whose knowledge is essential for transforming the assessment system.

The paper lays out a vision and action plan for how this new model can be created. It involves deep inclusion of “those closest to the learning process”—such as students, families, educators, and community members—and “sharing authority in ways that permit distributed ownership to emerge.” The state would partner with districts and local coalitions, building trusting relationships, providing capacity, and nurturing the development of “local ‘laboratories of learning’ aimed at creating more balanced assessment and accountability models that better serve community needs and strengthen teaching and learning.” The state would remain responsible for validating local results, ensuring that every child is served, enlisting partner organizations, and applying what’s learned from the local pilot work to facilitate broader systems change.

The action plan is divided into two phases. Phase One is exploration and coalition-building, to build understanding of the need for change, co-create a vision with diverse stakeholders, and prepare state agencies for new roles. Phase Two encompasses the broader systems change work. It’s framed as a multi-year process, but “the slow work of building trust and shared responsibility is far more effective and able to substantially improve teaching and learning for all students, especially the most historically underserved, than a quick but shallow top-down mandate.”

Increasing the Racial, Ethnic, and Linguistic Diversity of the Educator Workforce

This report from the Great Schools Partnership (GSP) emerged from the work of the New England Secondary School Consortium. Recognizing the need to bring equity to the forefront of their work, education leaders from the six New England states were seeking guidance for diversifying the educator workforce.

GSP’s Associate Director, Mark Kostin, explained that the report was developed by a task force of teachers, school and district leaders, policy makers, state education agencies, professional and community organizations, and higher education leaders. Its rationale is based on research that having teachers of color can boost students’ academic achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment rates. However, the K-12 public education system, with 50% students of color, has only 18% teachers of color.

Framework for Diversifying the Educator Workforce
Source: Diversifying the Educator Workforce, GSP 2020

The report considers five major steps in the career of an educator—cultivating interest in education as a profession; supporting completion of a teacher preparation program; streamlining certification; recruiting and hiring; and supporting, retaining, and promoting educators of color. For each of these steps, the report highlights barriers, explores solutions, and shares examples of successful programs.

For example, the first step—cultivating interest in becoming an educator—recognizes that most students of color have had few teachers of color. Many have also had alienating experiences in schools that might turn them away from a teaching career. Featured promising practices include an organization with a variety of teacher-pipeline programs focused on youth and adults of color, an initiative that links low-income immigrant and limited-English-speaking family and community members into an education paraprofessional training program, and a program for Black and Latinx paraprofessonals to become licensed teachers.

The report also offers action strategies targeted to six categories of leaders—policymakers, state and education agency leaders, building and district leaders, teacher leaders, community leaders, and higher education leaders. The strategies correspond to the steps of an educator’s career described earlier. For example, in the “streamlining certification and licensure” step, state leaders can shift from traditional certification examinations toward portfolios or demonstrations. Community leaders can provide “resources explaining certification requirements in many languages and engage racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse communities in understanding and accessing those resources.”

Kostin noted that the report’s recommendations are already being put in place, most notably by a coalition of about 100 educators, community leaders, policymakers, and higher education leaders in Vermont. The report provides a valuble blueprint for other states and regions who recognize that diversifying the educator workforce is an essential component of achieving educational equity.

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Eliot Levine is the Aurora Institute’s Research Director and leads CompetencyWorks.

Follow @Eliot_Levine