Bradley Scott, M.A.

Now that the century has changed, now that the millennium is dawning, now that we have been reforming and improving America’s schools for a good 10 years, let us not kid ourselves. Let us admit that in order for schools to be called excellent, exemplary, blue ribbon, or models, they must work for all kinds of diverse learners. They must be producing high student outcomes for all learners regardless of race, gender, national origin and linguistic status, and economic status. If they are not, they may be good, but they are not excellent. After all, good schools have always worked for some students. The real issue is making schools work for all students.

In the February 1999, issue of the IDRA Newsletter, I discussed the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of the role of the 10 desegregation assistance centers. With the new label of “equity assistance centers,” they can now provide technical assistance and training to support a broader set of concerns important to a school reform agenda rather than only to a school desegregation agenda. In that article, I presented the goals of educational equity.

I have received feedback from my colleagues at the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) and many people across the nation about the goals of educational equity. The South Central Collaborative for Equity (SCCE), the equity assistance center that is a program of IDRA and serves Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas (Federal Region VI), has embraced the goals of educational equity. The nine other equity assistance centers have embraced the goals as well. We were given an opportunity by the US Department of Education to present the goals at the three regional Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA) conferences that were held in October, November, and December of last year.

While the goals are still a work in progress, the SCCE has been using them as a framework for providing technical assistance to and becoming engaged with the school districts with which it works in federal Region VI.

The five goals of educational equity are:

  1. Comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes;
  2. Equitable access and inclusion;
  3. Equitable treatment;
  4. Equitable opportunity to learn; and
  5. Equitable resources.

It wisely has been suggested to me that the first goal is actually the real outcome of educational reform, and the other four goals are the conditions or objectives that must be met for the first goal to be reached. I readily accept that argument and very well may change the nomenclature. At this writing, however, I will call them all goals because each is an end or final point that must be reached if a school district is going to talk about its schools’ excellence.

Since I first presented these goals one year ago, many people have asked for definitions and examples of the goals in action. We must take a closer look at each goal by presenting a definition for it and some issues related to it that must be addressed before we are able to answer the question, “How do we make schools work for all learners?”

Goal 1: Comparably High Academic Achievement and Other Student Outcomes

A school district or campus can be called excellent if there is comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes. The first goal is defined as follows: As data on academic achievement and other student outcomes are disaggregated and analyzed, one sees high comparable performance for all identifiable groups of learners, and achievement and performance gaps are virtually non-existent.

Many issues must be addressed to achieve this goal. To deal with these issues, school districts and campuses must ask themselves the following.

  • Are there comparably high achievement outcomes for all learners?
  • Are there comparably high social outcomes for all learners, such as responsible citizenship development, problem solving, decision-making skills and life skills development?
  • Are school completion rates consistently high for all diverse learners?
  • Are there comparably low disciplinary referrals, suspensions and expulsions for all learners?
  • Is there high literacy for all diverse learners?
  • Are there comparably high rates of participation in college and/or post-secondary schooling and training, or is there competent preparation for school-to-work transitions for all learners?
  • Are there violence-free, safe, supportive learning environments for all learners?
  • Are engaged and involved parents of all groups of learners supporting their children’s success in school?

Goal 2: Equitable Access and Inclusion

The challenge in achieving the second goal is to eradicate the barriers that prevent access and inclusion. These barriers are both overt and covert. Many times, there is an insidious, benign and naive unawareness that these barriers even exist. And so, equitable access and inclusion is defined as: The unobstructed entrance into, involvement of and full participation of learners in schools, programs and activities within those schools.

This definition suggests that simply getting through the door is not enough, but all learners must be able to become as fully and deeply involved in the schooling experience as they and their families choose to be. In order to create equity regarding access and inclusion, school districts and campuses must ask themselves the following.

  • Do learners and their families have complete access to information in a language or form of communication that is meaningful?
  • Do the assessment, course selection, and placement processes and appropriate supports exist to sustain all learners in courses and programs in an equitable manner?
  • Are counseling and advisement fair and equitable for all diverse learners?
  • Do the organizational structures and mechanisms of operation work to provide all learners with appropriate access and inclusion?
  • Does instructional engagement really exist such that instruction is presented in a way that is culturally, linguistically and cognitively appropriate for all learners and that embraces their interests, psychological readiness and emotional preparedness?
  • What is the availability, quality and use of technology by all learners, including its use in managing and presenting instruction and in accessing all the supports that Internet can provide?
  • To what degree have teachers and administrators been supported to have high expectations and positive attitudes about their students and their right to unobstructed, unrestricted opportunities for access and inclusion?
  • Are there appropriate monitoring and accountability measures established to address discrimination that denies access and full inclusion?
  • Do school-parent-community partnerships exist and foster full access and engagement for parents and community people in the process of excellent schooling?
  • Are these collaborations among school, home and community, assets-based so that all partners become engaged from their positions of strength as equals rather than as members in deficit model school-home interactions?

Goal 3: Equitable Treatment

As with the previous goal, issues of treatment are very often clouded by people’s inability to see how their interactions with others may be filtered through negative attitudes, prejudices, lack of information and ignorance, and/or benign non-awareness. Actions that flow from such positions may also appear to be insensitive and disrespectful even when no such intention exists. This pattern of interaction must be addressed. Equitable treatment, therefore, is defined as: Patterns of interaction between individuals and within an environment characterized by acceptance, valuing, respect, support, safety and security such that students feel challenged to become invested in the pursuits of learning and excellence without fear of threat, humiliation, danger or disregard.

Regarding issues of equitable student treatment, districts and campuses must ask themselves the following.

  • What is the environment and culture of cross-cultural interaction?
  • What assessments or surveys have been conducted to determine people’s attitudes, perceptions, expectations and prejudices about racially and culturally different people?
  • Are education for diversity and multicultural education as well as training for justice and equality occurring for staff, students and parents?
  • Is training provided for staff, students and parents in prejudice reduction, non-discrimination, and the eradication of racism, sexism and classism?
  • Is training and development being provided in areas such as problem solving, decision making, conflict resolution, interpersonal and cross-cultural communication?
  • Does the staff work to create the four conditions for positive intergroup contact including equal status, knowledge and acquaintanceship, common goal, and institutional support?
  • Does the staff have the knowledge and expertise to apply its understanding of the four conditions across all diverse student populations?
  • Does the staff create and implement plans for decreasing isolation, separation, and segregation between and among racially and culturally different students?
  • Does staff work to create and implement learning environments that are racially and culturally fair and free of racial and gender bias and hostility?
  • Do the interactions of all individuals – including staff, students and parents – reflect sensitivity to and respect for the language, cultural and class differences of others?
  • What is the evidence of equitable support, treatment, assistance and guidance given to students, parents and staff?
  • If such a plan exists, how comprehensive is the plan for the management of equity?

Goal 4: Equitable Opportunity to Learn

There are those who find this fourth area too difficult to address because it boils down to a philosophical belief about the value of all learners regardless of their race, gender, national origin and economic status. Some people, by their actions, demonstrate their belief that not all learners have a right to receive a quality, equitable education. There are systems and institutional practices that reflect a philosophical belief that some students do not deserve a real opportunity to learn.

Clearly, if excellent schools are to exist, they will only do so because of their ability to provide each student with an equitable opportunity to learn. For this reason, an equitable opportunity to learn is defined as: At a minimum, the creation of learning opportunities so that every child, regardless of characteristics and identified needs, is presented with the challenge to reach high standards and are given the requisite pedagogical, social, emotional and psychological supports to achieve the high standards of excellence that are established.

Once again, there are tough questions and issues that a district or a campus must be willing to answer regarding the opportunity given to all learners regardless of race, gender, national origin and economic circumstance. A district must ask itself the following.

  • Is every learner presented with high-powered, challenging curriculum that is race, gender and class bias-free as well as the appropriate form of instruction to make that curriculum comprehensible?
  • Do the instruction methods and materials support all students’ opportunity to learn and to achieve?
  • How are inappropriate instructional barriers and practices – such as tracking and ability grouping, inappropriate assessment and placement decisions, and inadequate guidance and counseling – that may prevent or impede some students’ opportunity to learn addressed and eradicated?
  • Are research-based instructional models and practices employed to open up and expand the opportunity to learn for all students?
  • To what extent is it evident that literacy, bi-literacy and multi-literacy is advocated, supported and reflected in the process of instructional implementation?
  • How is technology integrated into management and instruction of education and how is it made available to all learners in an equitable manner?
  • To what extent are new and emerging constructs for teaching and learning being fully integrated into every student’s opportunity to learn including issues such as brain research, multiple intelligences and new intelligences?
  • To what extent have new constructs about learning communities (“what school is” and “where school is”) been integrated into what is done at the local level to ensure that the opportunity to learn does not mean to learn only in one kind of place in one kind of way?
  • How are decisions about what needs to be learned and how well things must be learned tempered with decisions about how opportunities for such learning are made available to all kinds of students?
  • How is staff development being reshaped to reflect 21st century teaching, learning and issues of the growing diversity of students?

Goal 5: Equitable Resources

This final goal is directly tied to the proceeding one. We cannot begin to talk about the opportunity to learn without discussing how resources – including money, time, personnel, facilities, materials, and academic and other supports – are distributed to ensure that no matter where students are, they receive the resources they require to support their expected success and excellence in school performance. Thus, equitable resources is defined as:

Funding, staffing and other resources for equity-based excellence that are manifested in the existence of equitably assigned qualified staff, appropriate facilities, other environmental learning spaces, instructional hardware and software, instructional materials and equipment, and all other instructional supports, are distributed in an equitable and fair manner such that the notion that all diverse learners must achieve high academic standards and other school outcomes become possible.

In order for a district or campus to achieve equitable distribution of resources, it must ask the following.

  • What are the beliefs, attitudes and practices around school finance equity including resource allocation, distribution, sources of funding (i.e., hard or soft; local or state and federal), timeliness and appropriateness of funding (i.e., resources when they are needed, where they are needed)?
  • How are issues of inter-district and intra-district comparability addressed so that there is an equitable distribution of resources to all campuses within a district such that the students of all schools receive the supports they need to achieve at expected levels of excellence regardless of where the students are in a district or the schools those students attend?
  • What are the philosophical beliefs and the social and community practices, political policies and actions that become apparent when issues arise regarding equal funding versus equitable funding for education, per pupil expenditures, and weighted funding allocations?
  • How are facilities, their maintenance, care, rejuvenation, upkeep, and resource utilization patterns established and implemented to support all learners?
  • How is the issue of resource sustainability addressed for those programs and activities that address the special characteristics of learners (i.e., language characteristics, special programs for girls in math and science, supplemental support for low-income learners)?
  • What decisions are made about staff assignments and experience, staff and human resource development, and teacher certification?

How then do we make schools work for all children? The answer is not a simple one. Somewhere within the answer to that question lies an appropriate answer for all of the proceeding questions and others that were not raised. When a district or campus answers these questions, it must be able to show evidence. It will be better when they show evidence over time rather than just for one year. Sustainability over time seems to be grounds for calling a district, a campus, or a program excellent; that is, it works for all learners over time.

There are examples of such places and spaces that exist throughout the nation. The recent IASA conferences highlighted many such campuses and programs. There are examples that are currently being studied that are on their way to becoming excellent. These are good programs that are working to become excellent programs.

Does a district, campus or program have to be perfect to be considered excellent? I hardly think so. At best, we are imperfect beings trying to reach perfection. What these districts, campuses and programs must do is work comparably well for all kinds of diverse learners, moving them to high achievement and other student outcomes. This is our challenge. We already have enough evidence to know that more schools can work better for more kinds of learners if that is what we believe, want and intend to have happen. I think a part of the answer also lies in more of us really believing, wanting, intending and acting like that is what we want to have happen.

This is important. We can only begin to imagine how important it is. I have said more than once that we have to act as if our very future depends on equity in education because, in truth, it does.

I was talking to Sarah Aleman, an IDRA staff member who does a lot of the graphic development at IDRA. I asked her about what image I could use to capture the inseparable, undeniable, irrefutable point that excellence requires equity. She asked me what I really wanted to convey. I said I wanted to convey a message that excellence implies equity. She said that once I come up with the right analogy, she could develop the right graphic.

One analogy I had in mind was a house called “excellence” that has four walls and a roof. The four walls are labeled equitable access and inclusion, equitable treatment, equitable opportunity to learn, and equitable distribution of resources. The roof is labeled comparable high academic achievement and other student outcomes.

A second analogy I had in mind was a car, the Excellent model, being powered by gasoline called equity.

The third was a symbol that represents a combination of the words excellence and equity such as excelequity or equexcellence.

The last analogy I thought of was a mirror with “Excellence” looking into it and the reflection “Equity” looking back.

Sarah said, “Why don’t you just tell people that excellence and equity go hand in hand?” If the message is clear and strong enough, it will create its own image. Sarah was right.

Resources

Scott, B. “From ‘DAC? to ‘EAC? – The Expanding Role of the Equity Assistance Center,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 1999) pp. 5, 8.

Bradley Scott, MA is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. He directs the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

Five Goals of Educational Equity

Goal 1: Comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes.


As data on academic achievement and other student outcomes are disaggregated and analyzed, one sees high comparable performance for all identifiable groups of learners, and achievement and performance gaps are virtually non-existent.

Goal 2: Equitable access and inclusion.

The unobstructed entrance into, involvement of and full participation of learners in schools, programs and activities within those schools.

Goal 3: Equitable treatment.

Patterns of interaction between individuals and within an environment characterized by acceptance, valuing, respect, support, safety and security such that students feel challenged to become invested in the pursuits of learning and excellence without fear of threat, humiliation, danger or disregard.

Goal 4: Equitable opportunity to learn.

At minimum, the creation of learning opportunities so that every child, regardless of characteristics and identified needs, is presented with the challenge to reach high standards and are given the requisite pedagogical, social, emotional and psychological supports to achieve the high standards of excellence that are established.

Goal 5: Equitable resources.

Funding, staffing and other resources for equity-based excellence that are manifested in the existence of equitably assigned qualified staff, appropriate facilities, other environmental learning spaces, instructional hardware and software, instructional materials and equipment, and all other instructional supports, are distributed in an equitable and fair manner such that the notion that all diverse learners must achieve high academic standards and other school outcomes become possible.

[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the 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.]

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