An Equity Approach to Creating Future Ready Schools

An Equity Approach to Creating Future Ready Schools

Educators across the country work diligently to provide learning experiences that are of high quality and relevant to the needs of today’s modern learners. Whether the point of intervention focuses on student engagement, literacy, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM), Project Based Learning (PBL), or other innovative content, districts continue to evolve, and great work happens in schools every day that is intended to improve the learning opportunities available to all students. Despite the moderate success of these efforts, research from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) and others consistently report persistent gaps in performance between the most vulnerable student groups (e.g., students of color, those with disabilities, those in rural schools/districts, etc.) and their white suburban counterparts.  Given data these trends, when implementing any intervention at the school or district level, it is vital that educators are intentional about not exacerbating existing inequities and focus on creating more and better learning opportunities for the students that need it most.

The divide amongst students who have and do not have access to technology for learning remains a national concern among K-12 educators. Given the popularity of technology as a tool to enhance learning outcomes, and the movement to increase the availability of technology in schools across the county, learning opportunities both in and out of school is critical to providing all students with a high-quality education. In the context of digital learning, equity means that every student, regardless of socioeconomic difference, background, physical restrictions, or any other attributes historically associated with inequities, has the access, support, and opportunities they need to benefit from the educational outcomes that advanced technologies can provide. Most educators agree with that notion; however, many still remain confused about how to implement equity focused strategies at the classroom, school, and district levels to ensure that every child receives the opportunities they deserve. Additionally, in providing professional learning to increase educators’ capacity to implement student-centered learning opportunities, Future Ready SchoolsÒ (FRS) as an organization believes that each child, no matter their zip code or family income, deserves the opportunity to engage in learning that is:

  • Personalized and student-centered
  • Robust and prepares them for an increasingly technology-driven workforce and world
  • Research-based and implemented by caring, qualified teachers
  • Student driven and taps into their unique passions and interests
  • Creates a clear pathway to post-secondary success whereby each student achieves their full potential

Using the Future Ready SchoolsÒ (FRS) framework as a guide, this blog recommends specific strategies for school and district leaders who seek to apply an equity lens when designing and implementing student-centered learning.

The FRS framework provides a structure for visioning, planning, and implementing student-centered learning in schools and districts. It presents seven key areas or gears (i.e., Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Personalized Professional Learning, Robust Infrastructure, Budget and Resources, Community Partnerships, Data and Privacy, and Use of Space and Time), that ground the decision-making and planning processes associated with digital learning in sound research and practice. The outside rings of the framework emphasize the need for collaborative leadership and continuous improvement. For a complete description of the FRS framework visit dashboard.futurereadyschools.org/framework.

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Personalized Professional Learning
  • Budget and Resources
  • Community Partnerships
  • Data and Privacy
  • Robust Infrastructure
  • Use of Space and Time

The following recommendations provide guidance for school and district leaders as they identify how to approach inequities that impact their students’ learning opportunities. Details on implementing the strategies discussed below are included for reference.

Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment: Districts establish a learner-centric vision, curriculum, and instructional practices that provide students with personal and authentic learning experiences, connect learning to real-world applications, and build collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Emphasize a competency-based approach to curriculum and assessment where students’ demonstrated growth on explicit, measurable, and transferable learning objectives proves mastery.
  2. Develop timely and differentiated support for students based on their learning needs.
  3. Establish clear and high expectations for each student and providing support accommodations where needed.
  4. Ensuring cultural relevance in instruction, as well as valuing the social-emotional side to learning as of equal importance to academics.

Helpful Resources:


Personalized Student LearningPersonalized Professional Learning: Districts model and implement responsive, ongoing, and job-embedded learning for teachers and staff members and create a districtwide culture of shared ownership for professional growth.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Ensure that all teachers, specifically those that serve underperforming students, have equitable opportunities to participate in high quality professional learning.
  2. Empower teachers to take risks, be proactive, and apply a personalized learning approach as potential solutions to students’ learning challenges (e.g., practice culturally relevant pedagogy and enhance opportunities for student voice, choice, and agency in their learning).
  3. Prioritize training around culturally responsive teaching and social-emotional learning.

 Helpful Resources:


Budget and Resources:  Districts analyze and reallocate resources to personalize learning for students, seek opportunities to leverage efficiency and cost-savings on an ongoing basis, and align district and school budgets with strategic and tactical plans.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Develop sustainable budgets and plans for personalized learning initiatives that specifically support students who are in highest need, ensuring the needed support for traditionally marginalized groups.
  2. Apply creative budgeting strategies that leverage internal resources and seek out alternative external resources to explore digital learning.
  3. Engender buy-in among leadership at the school, district, school board and state education agency to support sustainable planning, funding and implementation of equitable digital learning programs.
  4. Adopt sound recruitment and retention practices that produce diverse school leaders, teachers, and support staff.

Helpful Resources:


Community Partnerships: Districts collaborate, support, and engage with the local community to establish and foster relationships that support their school culture and vision.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Develop relationships with local business, community organizations, religious institutions etc. to extend learning opportunities for students outside of school (i.e., internships, apprenticeships, work experience, etc.)
  2. Develop unique approaches to addressing the homework gap that involve the surrounding community, business and advocacy organizations
    1. Extended Wi-Fi access in restaurants, local libraries, churches, etc.
  3. Develop specialized, multi-level, multi-modal communications strategies to engage parents and caregivers challenged by accessibility issues, illiteracy, or those affected by language barriers.

Helpful Resources:


Data and Privacy:  Districts use data to inform and transform instruction and support learner agency and develop policies and procedures that protect the privacy of student data.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Strategic use of attendance, demographic, and student achievement data to monitor and address the specific needs of under resourced students.
  2. Provide high quality digital citizenship materials and training for students, teachers, parents/caregivers, and staff to promote responsible use of technology as well as security of sensitive information.

Helpful Resources:


Robust Infrastructure: Districts ensure equity in access, from high-quality devices to the bandwidth needed to support the district’s vision for teaching and learning, both inside and outside of school.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Leverage technology to address existing inequities among students by providing high-quality opportunities for the most vulnerable student groups (i.e., students with learning difference / learning disability, rural students, those with limited or lack of access outside of school).
  2. Use data to analyze internet access capabilities in-and-out of school to mitigate challenges with the “homework gap” and provide appropriate resources (Mi-fi devices, tutor hours, etc.).

Helpful Resources:


Use of Space and Time: Districts rethink, redesign, and transform learning spaces to amplify student voice, choice, and agency and promote anytime, anywhere learning opportunities for all students, including those without internet or device access at home.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Design classrooms and learning environments that support multiple approaches to learning and instruction aligned with students cultural and cognitive needs (e.g., images and content that represents diversity of women, students of color, etc.).
  2. Transition from Carnegie units to reimagine the school schedule in order to promote mastery and competency-based learning.
  3. Increase opportunities for anytime, anywhere learning by adopting new and innovative strategies for library and media support services

Helpful Resources:


Collaborative Leadership: Leaders within a district must be empowered to create cultures of innovation, must believe in the district’s shared, forward-thinking vision for deeper learning through effective uses of digital, 21st Century technologies.

Equity Focused Strategies:

  1. Develop a clear understanding of the differences between equity and equality as it relates to advancing high quality learning opportunities for EACH student in the district.
  2. Implement inclusive leadership practices that engage a diverse group of stakeholders at all levels invested in the education of EACH student.
  3. Empower leadership committee members to inform the design, strategy and implementation efforts associated with a given initiative.
  4. Model positive and inclusive culture among teachers and staff.

Helpful Resources:

Conclusion

As educators continue to identify the best ways to support the learning needs of today’s student, it is our responsibility to ensure that our approaches create equitable opportunities for ALL. The gaps that persist among our most vulnerable students can be addressed by intentional planning and implementation of student-centered research-based strategies at the school and district level. The Future Ready Schools framework articulates the essential components of a comprehensive student-centered learning initiative. That frame coupled with equity focused strategies will help to ensure that our most vulnerable students are at the forefront of our planning and implementation of effective digital learning initiatives.

ABOUT AVRIL SMART GOGGANS, PHD

Avril Smart GoggansPhD, is an accomplished education researcher with years of experience evaluating the impact of innovations in teaching and learning, and the effective use of technology for instruction among students and educators. In her role as Research and Engagement Manager for Future Ready Schools® (FRS) at the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), she provides leadership on the planning, design, and analysis of research that measures the impact of the FRS network. In addition, her work with FRS highlights the intersection between education equity and technology-enhanced instruction in K-12. Dr. Smart Goggans earned a Ph.D. and Master of Science degrees in applied social and community psychology from North Carolina State University. She is also a proud graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the largest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the country.

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