On May 19, 2016 Scholastic invited its National Advisory Council—an esteemed group of educational thought leaders—to participate in a day-long dialogue about equity in education. The 2016 National Advisory Council (NAC) includes:
Deb Delisle, CEO of Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
Chris Lehmann, Founding Principal, Science Leadership Academy / Assistant Superintendent, Innovation Network, School District of Philadelphia
Dr. Karen Mapp, Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education / Faculty Director of the Education Policy and Management Masters Program
Chirlane McCray, First Lady, New York City
Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year
Dr. Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent, Tacoma Public Schools
Dr. Walter Gilliam, Ph.D., Director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy / Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine
The discussion among this diverse group of educators yielded several common themes and imperatives; among them, a holistic approach to supporting both students and teachers; the importance of systemic learning supports and deep family and community engagement; and differentiated approaches to both student instruction and professional development for teachers. Our panelists stressed the need for innovative thinking around equity that acknowledges the necessity of deep, systemic change.
Dick Robinson, Scholastic’s Chairman and CEO, opened the event with a reminder to challenge our own thinking about equity in education: “Today is different than yesterday—our job is to think of the national classroom, with kids from all kinds of economic strata and all different home lives.”
Below is a selection of ideas, experiences and imperatives from the 2016 National Advisory Council on Equity in Education.
When asked what issues were at the core of their work, the National Advisory Council highlighted professional development for teachers, forging family and community partnerships, turning research into actionable policy for children and families, and making mental health services and early childhood education priorities. Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, said, “The heart of my work is my heart, and there is a line down the center. On one side is the ‘majority-minority.’ Many are refugees, who can read and write their way into a better life. And on the other side are the teachers who help them, and I want those teachers to see themselves as artists and warriors.”
What does equity in education mean to you?
Chirlane McCray: It means meeting children where they are, and making sure they have the resources they need, like staff, books and programs. There is no one-size-fits-all, and from my perspective, which is the lens of mental health, we’re not doing that. There is no greater barrier to learning than not having mental wellness.
Walter Gilliam: Equity and social justice are at the heart of early childhood education. Children in preschool are expelled at three times the rate of older children, and African-American kids are expelled at 2–3 times the rate of other children. The problem is that we take the data meant for African-American children, apply it to all children, and then push African-American children out the back door. We need to protect the access of those children who gave us the data in the first place.
Deb Delisle: I have a saying: “Every student, every day, some success, some way.” That is equity to me. We need differentiation of resources and support structures for all children; it’s a human rights imperative.
Chris Lehmann: Education is supposed to be our silver bullet, but it’s a parental meritocracy. If a child’s parents are wealthy and live in a wealthy place, that child gets more dollars spent on him or her. And that is unconscionable to me. It denies humanity and their agency.
Karen Mapp: We have not looked in the mirror and studied our own biases, stereotypes and assumptions about the kids we say we want to help. Have we really thought about what it takes to move that agenda forward? Do we know what to do? Do you want to live in a world of illusion and ignorance or a world of truth? If you want to be a warrior for social justice, it means a lot of hard work.
Shanna Peeples: Equality is everyone gets shoes. Equity is all the shoes fit. Teachers are the frontline soldiers working toward making sure all shoes fit. Part of that is innovation. I ask you to keep asking yourselves, what can you do to keep good teachers teaching? Provide them with what they need and show them how to innovate with what they have.
Josh Garcia: We can’t take a piece of puzzle, reshape it, and try to put it back in. We have to rebuild the puzzle. We keep trying to solve this issue with small pieces when we don’t even agree on what success is for kids. We need to use data in an ethical manner, build systems and ecosystems in mental health and early learning, and challenge those among us who don’t do that.
The most important variable in learning is a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher—but these teachers don’t always end up in schools where kids need them the most. How do we fix that?
SP: It takes political will, and a lot of things we don’t want to do. We tell teachers the problems are their fault. But instead of telling teachers, maybe we should listen to what teachers have to say. I know it’s crazy, but maybe we know how to do some stuff!
DD: Why not ask teachers, “What do you need to stay in the school?” People leave because of the issues with support structures and leadership. Money helps, but it isn’t the answer. The key is the joint partnership of highly effective leaders and highly effective teachers.
CM: Think about where our teachers are coming from, and staff schools with people who are from the communities where they work. So many kids go through the school system and never have a teacher that looks like them.
KM: Look at who’s doing good work, and follow the practices they put in place.
JG: Teachers need data and strategies to reach kids, and they need time to plan. Writing an effective lesson plan—just one—takes hours and hours!
WG: What amazes me is that we seem to believe that we can provide equity for children without providing equity for the adults who help them. It’s the same principle as the oxygen mask instructions you get on an airplane—in order to help kids, you must be able to help yourself.
When you think about systems of support that teachers need most, what would be at the top of your list?
KM: Teachers stay at schools where there are strong relationships of trust between schools and families. We need to ask families what they want, and what they know, because they can share a lot about their children that will help teachers be better practitioners in the classroom. Sometimes we assume that some families don’t know anything—and we have to be very careful about that. We don’t want to make assumptions that they don’t have knowledge. We also need to make sure our families are not our clients—I used to say “clients,” but I don’t anymore—families are our co-producers and our co-creators of equitable education for children.
DD: They need the right culture and climate. High standards don’t mean anything if they don’t wrap their arms around every kid and every educator. And professional development can’t be canned—it needs to be personalized because each one of us will approach it differently.
SP: We need job-embedded teacher-coaches.
We know that students from higher-income areas have eight times more books than classrooms in low income schools, and 61% of low-income families have no books in the home. How does the distribution of resources contribute to equity?
JG: Books aren’t the problem. The waste in the system is the adverse experiences our kids are facing, which are then brought into the classroom, and this impacts not only the students, but the adults as well.
WG: We need to invest in school-based mental health, and de-stigmatize it by putting those services right into the community-based programs.
DD: Over-reliance on standardized tests will not bring us to equity. If we continue to define student success as the big thick envelope senior year, or the ELA and math skills, we will continue to fail.
Check back in this space for ongoing dialogue on equity in education. In coming weeks we will be featuring posts from several of our National Advisory Council members.
Photo: Gina Asprocolas