ISA defines equity as a required condition of justice, fairness, and inclusion that must be embedded throughout the educational system to ensure that all students have access to rich educational opportunities and can meet their fullest potential. Equity is deeply rooted in the principles of doing what is right and what is just. Pursuing equity within our educational system demands a close examination of the efficacy of the structures in place that support that pursuit. Without that examination, systems of education can risk marginalizing sub-groups of students.
First, we must assess the flexibility of the system to serve all students. The degree of flexibility indicates the level of collective capacity. Greater capacity to allocate and adjust resources shows a nimbleness to plan and respond to ever-changing student need. Flexibility is the hallmark of a system capable of making equity real. Flexibility within an educational system emerges when we acknowledge that supporting students is not a linear process.
Second, we must prepare school staff to identify and pursue opportunities to increase equity means, for example, by designing a district professional development (PD) plan that emphasizes equity across all levels of staff. A thoughtful, equity-focused PD plan must be integrated throughout the school year and have diverse opportunities for learning; flexibility again is the key word.
These learning opportunities cannot be static. Therefore, two types of learning should be offered: one type that allows staff to reflect on its personal beliefs and how those beliefs impact the teaching and learning process (implicit bias) and another that supports the improvement of instructional practices for underrepresented students. Together, these two types of learning allow staff members to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the students they serve.
Third, after engaging with this professional development, staff members become equipped to ask hard questions of themselves and the learning environments they create. Do students feel included in the school? Do they see themselves in the environment and in the curriculum? Are students engaged within the classroom setting? What evidence proves this? For those students not included or not engaged, how can the system of education flex to change their experience? The ability to ask these equity-focused questions and the ability of a system to respond quickly and respectfully show progress toward a more equitable learning environment capable of meeting the needs of all students.
But reaching this plateau does not mean the work stops. Staff and students change each year. New social conditions impact the environment. Different educational targets are set. With each seemingly small tweak, different needs appear, and educators must be ready, willing, and able to respond. If you crest one hill on your hike, there is always the next one to climb.
Closely examining the system and ensuring its flexibility are the first steps to creating more far-reaching institutional change. When looking at its current processes, a district can examine both qualitative and quantitative data to determine the students who are experiencing success and those who need additional supports. For those that are experiencing challenges, it is critical to examine how students are experiencing the school environment. What about the school culture might be inhibiting student growth and success? What can be done to change the culture?
Student success in any school or district is incumbent on merging professional development and the capacity it builds with the ongoing review and refinement of systems in place — systems that are focused on an equitable education for all. Effective schools and districts prioritize the review of upward or downward student outcome trends, all to achieve equitable excellence.