by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2001

Dr. Bradley ScottThe discussion about educational equity and school reform has been going on for quite some time now. Many educators have given their take on what educational equity is and what it should do. My colleagues at the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) and I have quite a history in the discussion ourselves.

As I have talked to various groups around the United States about educational equity and school reform, it has become apparent to me that the notion of equity is finally coming of age.

A little more than six years ago, I described a fourth generation of civil rights and school equity (Scott, 1995). While there were many issues to be focused on in that generation, essentially the primary foci were to:

  • transform school-to-work for all diverse learners;
  • produce world-class skills and competencies in all learners; and
  • create new and more powerful, transformative paradigms for equity, excellence, civil rights, educational reform, teaching and learning.

We have arrived at a point where now we need a broader, more compelling focus. We need to entertain a new generation of educational equity for a new millennium and a new time. Let me introduce Educational Equity – Generation Five.

The single primary focus and nine major concerns of the fifth generation of education equity are described below.

Fifth Generation Focus:
Creating and Implementing Systemic Equity

Systemic equity is defined as the transformed ways in which systems and individuals habitually operate to ensure that every learner – in whatever learning environment that learner is found – has the greatest opportunity to learn enhanced by the resources and supports necessary to achieve competence, excellence, independence, responsibility, and self-sufficiency for school and for life.

Fifth Generation Equity Concerns

  • Strategic and focused implementation of the Goals of Educational Equity.
  • Transformed curriculum that is relevant, meaningful, powerful and dynamic to produce excellent outcomes for all learners regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, economic level, language, citizenship status, family affiliation, special need, exceptionality, etc.
  • Reformed, expanded and targeted professional development, staff renewal and staff support systems.
  • Technology equity for management, instruction, creation and development.
  • Transformed views of teaching, learning, literacy, knowledge, funds of knowledge, intelligence, achievement, assessment, etc.
  • Heightened educational stakeholder collaboration.
  • Parental involvement and engagement.
  • Safety and security in learning environments and spaces.
  • Pre-kindergarten through grade 16 education and school completion.

It occurs to me that systemic equity can only be created in an environment that embraces a set of underlying assumptions about the right of every learner to receive the best possible public education. I have been able to identify seven assumptions so far. I present them here with the hope that the reader will reflect upon them, refine them and provide feedback on them.

  • Assumption One – In public schools, excellence is never achieved if various groups of learners fail to succeed and achieve high standards.
  • Assumption Two – Educators, parents and community members (all education stakeholders) who are committed to the national security of the United States are also committed to the Goals of Educational Equity and schools of excellence in principle and in practice.
  • Assumption Three – A compelling commitment to excellence and educational equity disdains and seeks to eradicate racism, sexism, classism and the manifestations of discrimination spawned by these aberrant and pathological ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Assumption Four – Just laws establish the necessary foundation for just action, and the achievement of the Goals of Educational Equity provides the sufficient force to cause appropriate action to produce the desired outcomes.
  • Assumption Five – When education stakeholders see and understand what is right, just and fair for all learners, they desire to do what is right, just and fair.
  • Assumption Six – People’s failure to do right by all learners is a function of their failure to see or understand, not a lack of will to do right by all learners.
  • Assumption Seven – When people of good faith see disparities in outcomes for learners, they immediately desire and do undertake to correct the deficiencies in systems and in individuals who operate those systems as well as the practices those systems and individuals produce.

How does one begin to create systemic equity? A good place to start is by conducting an educational equity audit. The Goals of Educational Equity and the equity issue questions are an excellent place to begin. These are provided in the box below.

An IDRA focus group team has reworked the definitions for the Goals of Educational Equity and the equity issue questions from an earlier version (Scott, 2000). As a district answers each equity issue question, by disaggregating the responses for students and families across race, gender and national origin, it can begin to determine where it falls on the equity ranking scale. The scale is four points with 1 representing the lowest level of equity implementation and 4 representing the highest level of systemic equity implementation.

It has been suggested to me that a series of rubrics would be helpful for assisting districts to place themselves properly on the equity ranking scale. I agree, and that request sounds like another idea whose time has come.

The Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform

A good place to start creating systemic equity is by conducting an educational equity audit. The Goals of Educational Equity and the equity issue questions are an excellent place to begin. These are provided in the boxes that follow. (See PDF version.)


Goal 1: Comparably High 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/performance gaps are virtually non-existent.

  1. Are there comparably high achievement outcomes for all learners?
  2. Are there comparably high social outcomes for all learners, such as responsible citizenship development, cross-cultural competence, conflict resolution, and life skills development?
  3. Are school promotion and completion rates consistently high for all diverse learners?
  4. How are data disaggregated?
  5. What is the district using as indicators of success?
  6. Is there high literacy, numeracy and technological competence for all diverse learners?
  7. Are the assessment measures fair, equitable and appropriate?
  8. What is the role of alternative assessment procedures?
  9. Are there comparably high rates of participation in college and/or post-secondary preparation or is there competent preparation for school-to-work transition for all learners?
  10. What is the role of alternative, authentic assessment measures?
  11. In what ways is the school environment actively and meaningfully engaging and involving parents, guardians, and caregivers of all groups of learners supporting their children’s success in school?
  12. Are there appropriate monitoring, accountability, and follow up measures established to address discrimination that impedes or denies access or full inclusion and success?

Goal 2: Equitable Access and Inclusion

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

  1. Do learners and their families have complete access to relevant information such as student achievement, program placement and participation in a language or form of communication that is meaningful to them?
  2. Do the assessment, course selection, and placement processes and appropriate supports exist to include and sustain all learners in quality courses and programs in an equitable manner?
  3. Describe an equitable manner in which the item above occurs.
  4. What are the criteria for a quality program?
  5. How is access ensured for all students?
  6. What counseling and advisement strategies and procedures expand options and opportunities equitably for all diverse learners?
  7. How are you actively recruiting parents?
  8. How is access ensured for all students?
  9. How do the organizational policies and practices (formal and informal) provide all learners with appropriate access and inclusion?
  10. What is the access, availability, quality and use of technology by all learners, including its use in planning, managing and integrating instruction in a constructivist way and in accessing all the supports that the Internet can provide?
  11. How are teachers and administrators reflecting high expectations and positive attitudes about their students’ success?
  12. How have these measures been institutionalized?
  13. In what ways do school-parent-community partnerships exist and foster full access and meaningful engagement for parents and community people in the process of excellent education?
  14. In what ways are the assets of school, home, and community, valued and integrated so that all partners become engaged from their positions of strength as equals rather than members in deficit-model school-home interactions?
  15. Are there appropriate monitoring, accountability, and follow-up measures established to address discrimination that impedes or denies?access or full inclusion and success?

Goal 3: Equitable Treatment

The evidence of patterns of interaction among individuals that is free from threat, humiliation, danger and disregard that also exists within a supportive, quality environment characterized by genuine acceptance, valuing, respect, support, safety and security, so that students, parents, community and staff feel challenged to risk becoming invested in the pursuits of learning and excellence.

  1. What does the culture of cross-cultural interaction look like in your district?
  2. How does your district/campus reflect the four conditions for positive intergroup contact including equal status, knowledge and acquaintanceship, common goal, and institutional support?
  3. What assessments or surveys have been conducted to determine people’s attitudes, perceptions, expectations and prejudices about learning and performance of racially and culturally diverse people?
  4. How does the staff create, implement and monitor plans for decreasing isolation, separation, and segregation between and among racially and culturally diverse students?
  5. What assessments are used to measure the cross-cultural competence of staff, parents and students?
  6. Are education for diversity and multicultural education as well as training for justice and equality occurring for and reflective of staff, students and parents?
  7. Is training provided for staff, students and parents in the elimination of personal and institutional (formal and informal) prejudice, discrimination of racism, sexism and classism?
  8. What are the organizational policies, systems, procedures, and practices to address racism, sexism, and classism?
  9. Is training and development being provided in areas such as conflict resolution, interpersonal and cross-cultural competence and communication?
  10. How does the staff have the knowledge and expertise to apply its understanding of the four conditions across all diverse student populations?
  11. Are there appropriate monitoring, accountability, and follow-up measures established to address discrimination that impedes or denies access or full inclusion and success?
  12. What is the evidence that the system has institutionalized practices of inclusion and integration?
  13. What does staff work do to create, implement, and monitor learning environments to ensure that they are racially and culturally inclusive and free of racial and gender bias and hostility?
  14. How is monitoring for diversity curriculum development integrated into the teacher evaluation processes?
  15. Do the interactions of all individuals – including administrators certified and non-certified staff, students and parents – reflect valuing and respect for the language, cultural and class differences of others?
  16. What is the evidence of equitable support, treatment, assistance, and guidance given to students and parents?
  17. How comprehensive is the plan for the management of equity?
  18. How does the school improvement plan reflect equity and equitable treatment?
  19. Are there comparably low disciplinary referrals, absenteeism rates, suspensions and expulsions for all learners?
  20. Are there violence-free, safe, supportive learning environments for all learners?
  21. What constitutes meaningful engagement in the teaching/learning process that is culturally, linguistically and cognitively appropriate for all learners?

Goal 4: Equitable Opportunity to Learn

The creation of challenging learning opportunities such that every child, regardless of characteristics and educational needs, is given the requisite pedagogical, social, emotional, psychological and materials supports to achieve the high academic standards of excellence that are established.

  1. How is every learner presented with a high quality and challenging curriculum that is race, gender and class bias-free as well as the appropriate form of instruction and support to make that curriculum comprehensible?
  2. How do the instructional methods and materials support all students’ opportunity to learn and to achieve to high standards?
  3. How do the instructional methods and materials vary to respond to the learning characteristics of all learners?
  4. What practices are used to identify and counteract inappropriate practices and placement such as tracking and ability grouping, inappropriate assessment and placement decisions, and inadequate guidance and counseling?
  5. What staff development, staffing, and organizational structure resources are in place to ensure an equitable opportunity to learn?
  6. What instructional strategies and research-based practices are appropriately employed to expand or create opportunities to learn for all students?
  7. How are students’ home languages valued, acknowledged and integrated into instruction?
  8. How do you ensure that every learner has access to comprehensible instruction?
  9. How are learners’ home languages valued, acknowledged and integrated into instruction?
  10. How is technology used to enhance opportunities for all students to learn in a manner that is equitable, challenging and high quality?
  11. How are new and emerging constructs for teaching and learning and promising practices being used to enhance every students’ opportunities to learn?
  12. What systemic processes are in place to identify and integrate new knowledge and promising practices into current curriculum and instructional practices?
  13. How have opportunities to learn been extended to all places inside and outside of traditional school settings?
  14. To what extent is the integrity of a high quality, high standards program preserved for all students?
  15. Are there appropriate monitoring, accountability, and follow-up measures established to address discrimination that impedes or denies access or full inclusion and success?

Goal 5: Equitable Resource Distribution

The assignment of funds, staff and other resources for equity and excellence, including: qualified staff equitably and appropriately assigned; appropriate facilities and other environmental learning spaces; quality instructional technology and infrastructure; appropriate instructional materials and equipment, and all other instructional supports for learning that are also distributed in the manner required to allow all diverse learners to achieve high academic standards.

  1. What practices are used to ensure equitable 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)?
  2. How are you monitoring the use of maximum and appropriate use of resources?
  3. How are facilities, their maintenance, care, rejuvenation, upkeep, and access utilization patterns established and implemented and monitored to equitably support all learners?
  4. How is the issue of resource acquisition and sustainability addressed to ensure equity in those effective 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)?
  5. How are decisions made about staff allocations and assignments, and human resource development to ensure equity for all students?
  6. What incentives are provided to attract, retain and sustain quality teachers to deliver high quality services to all students?
  7. How are parents and the community made aware of and involved in decision-making regarding resource and alternative instruction?
  8. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the community and parents of all students have meaningful opportunities to participate in the local budget development and resource allocation process?
  9. What strategies do you implement to ensure adequate and equitable participation of all stakeholders in the resource allocation process?
  10. Are there appropriate monitoring, accountability, and follow up measures established to address discrimination that impedes or denies access or full inclusion and success?
Source: Intercultural Development Research Association. “Coming of Age,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2001).


Scott, B. “The Fourth Generation of Desegregation and Civil Rights,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 1995).

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 the IDRA Division of Professional Development and director of the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]