Shaping the Sixth Generation of Civil Rights and Educational Equity
Bradley Scott, Ph.D.
It seems that our nation has arrived at a place where we must think about a new way of committing to students’ excellence and success. The federally-funded equity assistance centers have been engaged in profound conversations about what it will take for our public schools really to educate all children to excellence. IDRA has raised the same concerns as we have described various elements of the Quality School Action Framework™ (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010) and in the IDRA Newsletter.
This new place requires us to see with a different eye and commit to a more productive – albeit more challenging – enterprise of doing and being in the world of public education. This article begins that different enterprise by describing the equity context and lens for action. To date, five generations of civil rights and educational equity have been identified as follows.
- First Generation: 1954-1964 – litigation, starting with Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, shaped civil rights.
- Second Generation: 1964-1983 – legislation, starting with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, redefined the civil rights landscape.
- Third Generation: 1983-1990 – state-driven reform efforts, starting with the report, A Nation at Risk, refocused the civil rights conversation on issues beyond just access alone.
- Fourth Generation: 1990-2000 – state and national government reform efforts, starting with the national governors meeting on education challenging the country to look forward to the new century, as a marker for how public education should support excellence for all.
- Fifth Generation: 2001-2011 – No Child Left Behind Act passage, starting with the educational and civil rights conversation, challenging public schools to be accountable for disaggregated student achievement outcomes.
- The time is right to discuss a new generation of civil rights and educational equity.
- Sixth Generation: 2012-beyond – NCLB as updated by the current administration’s Blueprint for Reform.
The sixth generation is currently being shaped. While both the fifth and sixth generations are focused on systemic equity, the sixth is challenging us to be more focused on rigorous curriculum presented by highly qualified teachers under the supervision of dynamic leadership.
Other factors are emerging in this advance toward this new generation. The drivers that cause persistent outcome gaps for learners – including issues of disproportionality; over- and underrepresentation of minorities in special education and gifted and talented programs; high dropout rates for minority, linguistically different, low-income and special needs learners; persistent low college-going and college completion rates for these same populations; and differences between learners by gender – are clearly some of the key challenges this new generation of civil rights and educational equity compel us to address. But there is more.
The sixth generation is calling us to examine the quality, correctness and suitability of the inputs to produce different outcomes for all learners regardless of their differences to provide them with knowledge, skills and competencies that raise their global competitiveness in this 21st century world. Will our learners measure up? Will they be competitive? Will they be able to stand toe-to-toe with their counterparts around the globe and be successful? I think they will, but it will require us to see the world through a different lens.
Systemic equity is “the transformed ways in which systems and individuals habitually operate to ensure that every student has the greatest opportunity to learn enhanced by the resources and supports necessary to achieve competence, excellence, independence, personal and social responsibility, and self sufficiency for school and for life” (2000). And while systemic equity is still the goal, a new way of seeing is required.
Similarly, I have described the Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform (comparably high achievement and other student outcomes, equitable access and inclusion, equitable treatment, equitable opportunity to learn, equitable resource distribution, and equitable shared stakeholder accountability) (2000; 2002). Strategic and focused implementation of these goals is critical to the creation of systemic equity.
The sixth generation also is challenging us to see change and transformation through a different lens. A deficit lens is neither accurate, productive nor useful for looking at the outcomes for learners. Such a lens seeks to explain away, trivialize, excuse or fabricate the lived experiences of learners and their families as a reason for how they fare in schools.
An equal lens for seeing change also is neither useful nor productive because it ignores the diversity of real students in real communities and schools and the experiences they bring with them that shape who they really are.
What is needed is an equity lens that creates a different context to really see diverse learners, to value and embrace them and their differences, and to find ways of appropriately responding to and capitalizing on those diverse characteristics to move them to excellent academic outcomes as a part of their success in college and life.
The Equity Context and Lens
The equity context is comprised of the systems and structures a school district puts into place to ensure that no learner is denied the fair and equitable benefit of a quality, sound educational experience afforded to all other students regardless of race, gender, national origin, language, economic level and special need. Great teachers and leaders are prepared to engage students and families so that the equitable benefit is created and guaranteed for all learners. It becomes the lens through which all of the business of the organization is filtered.
At a minimum, the following questions must be posed before an organization can say that it has employed an equity lens to serve all students regardless of their differing characteristics.
How does this (activity) impact all learners?
What might create a negative or adverse impact on any identifiable population?
How might that adverse impact be avoided?
What precautions should we take as we move forward?
How do we monitor our work and the comparable outcomes for all students?
How do we change our policies, our practices and our processes to produce different, fair and equitable outcomes for the students and families we serve?
The Final Challenge
Every educational institutional has an obligation and is challenged to filter its business in support of student success through a lens of educational equity. This lens helps to protect the civil rights of every learner under the law; guarantee equitable educational opportunity for every learner regardless of their differing characteristics; provide the appropriate educational supports for school success, post-secondary school attendance and completion and life success supported by the necessary resources to make that success possible; while ensuring that every education stakeholder holds self and others responsible for these outcomes.
To see the Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform in more detail or in Spanish visit:
National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Education, April 1983).
Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds.). Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Scott, B. “Who’s Responsible, Who’s to Blame?,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2002).
Scott, B. “Coming of Age,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2001).
Scott, B. “We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services and project director of the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at
[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]