How should principals, superintendents, teachers, and policymakers move equity from a hazy goal to a reality for students, especially in a school year upended by the coronavirus pandemic?
A coalition of groups representing students with disabilities, English-language learners, students of color, and others have created a rubric that covers four essential components: access, capacity, opportunities, and outcomes.
All four of those components are needed for students to have equitable access to education, but they might take different forms depending on an individual student’s needs, the coalition says. For students with disabilities, “access” may mean ensuring that instructional materials, both print and digital, can be used by students who rely on assistive technology. For English-language learners, “access” could mean connecting and collaborating with families in their home language. And for students in foster care, “access” could mean making sure students have the devices and internet access needed for online instruction.
The rubric offers the same thought process for each of the themes. “Outcomes” for students with disabilities could mean collecting data to see how they are achieving compared to their peers who are not in special education. For English-learners, it could mean evaluating a school on whether it has created a welcoming climate.
Other student groups included in the document include LGBTQ students, migrant students, rural students, minority students, and students from low-income families.
The document was created by a group called the COVID-19 Education Coalition. The members that worked directly on the equity project included representatives from NCLD, the National Education Association, CAST, the Center for Black Educator Development, Education Commission of the States, Learning Ally, Learning Forward, Quality Matters, SchoolHouse Connection, and Understood.
In addition to posing questions for school leaders, the coalition also gathered resources school leaders can use in developing their own equity plans.
The goal of the document is to encourage school leaders to go beyond creating a generic strategy. While some issues overlap, certain students do have specific needs that need to be addressed explicitly, said Ace Parsi, the director of innovation for the National Center for Learning Disabilities and one of the coalition’s leaders.
And the pandemic has made some of these needs more urgent, he added.
“In times of chaos, when things are upside down, the people who are going to get left behind are the people who faced those same instituional biases” as during normal times, Parsi said. Students with disabilities, for example, have often been left behind in the scramble to adapt to online learning.
“It’s going to be easy for us to excuse things and say, let’s just try to make something work—providing something is good enough. These students are of no less worth than the students who don’t have disabilities,” he said. “If we are going to actually believe it and not just say it that opportunity has to be of equal rigor.”
And that’s true for students with other needs as well, he said.
“It’s not going to be a cookie-cutter solution for everyone,” Parsi said. “But the questions are the same.”
Image by Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.