Equity is a term we hear often, especially today. It is also a concept that is frequently misunderstood.
Equity involves providing all individuals with the specific support structures, if any, they require for a specific activity. For a family of four, each of a different height, to enjoy a bicycle ride, the size of each bike must be appropriate for the height of each rider if the ride is to be safe and fun for all. In other words, to make the ride equitable, each rider should have a bike frame that complements his or her height; not one size fits all.
As schools across the nation prepare to re-open, we must develop plans for children to learn and adults to work in safe, healthy environments. But districts should also be prepared for virtual learning, as it may become necessary to resume remote instruction.
Students and staff can benefit from districts conducting virtual learning post–mortems to analyze what worked—and what did not—in each district’s current distance learning initiatives. In doing so, education leaders should take care to focus on the students who may need special support during a time of remote instruction.
During the pandemic school closures, many students were able to engage with their teachers and other students through the use of technology. These are children who have access to devices and the internet, and who have had the experience and training to successfully use the technology.
However, in economically disadvantaged communities, students from low-income backgrounds, English language learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups may not have access to the technology. For those students, there is a risk the school closures will worsen the student achievement gap that already exists.
To help provide guidance on what local school districts should be asking themselves in doing an “equity audit,” the Education Trust, a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps, has identified Ten Questions for Equity Advocates to Ask About Distance Learning. They are below:
- How are you ensuring all students have access to the devices they need to fully participate in distance learning?
- How are you ensuring all students have access to reliable, high-speed internet to continue their education?
- How are you supporting schools in structuring instructional time to meet the needs of students with varying levels of access to the internet and technology?
- How are you supporting students with disabilities who need specialized instruction, related services, and other supports during school closures?
- How are you ensuring that the instructional needs of English learners (ELs) are supported during school closures?
- What kind of support and professional development are you providing to school leaders and teachers, especially in schools serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds and educators of students with disabilities and English learners?
- How are you supporting the social and emotional well-being of students, their parents/caregivers, and teachers during school closures?
- How are you maintaining regular communication with students and families — particularly the most vulnerable — during school closures?
- How are you measuring student progress to ensure students and families have an accurate picture of student performance for this school year?
- How are you supporting all high school students, especially seniors, in staying on track to graduate and preparing for college and career?
There is not one way to address each of those inquiries; there is more than one pathway. Do a self- analysis to ensure that a district is providing equitable tools and an equitable educational experience for all.
NJSBA’s Equity Council urges districts to conduct a rigorous self-examination on such questions. In a future issue of School Leader magazine, we will be examining these individual questions in more detail.
The NJSBA Equity Council consists of board of education members, superintendents, district administrators, and representatives from the New Jersey Department of Education, higher education, and advocacy groups. The purpose of the Equity Council is to provide NJSBA leadership, members and staff with information about issues and field experiences related to equity in education in New Jersey school districts, as well as a national perspective on this issue. The Equity Council regularly provides information on best practices and helpful resources to New Jersey school districts.