Academic Equity in the Post-COVID-19 Environment
Academic equity has become a focus of schools across the nation. COVID-19 just dealt school leaders an added inequitable blow. Why inequitable?
The answer is simple: Your most underserved populations were disproportionately hit by the pandemic.
Black, Brown, Indigenous, and learners of low wealth – particularly when their parents were not college-educated. Our culturally and linguistically diverse learners, whether large-city, suburban, or rural.
When schools closed beginning in March 2020, most systems struggled to implement remote learning. Schools, educators, learners, and parents just weren't prepared for that. The first days and weeks were fraught with connectivity, hardware, and compatibility issues. Not to mention many teachers moving from print-based instruction to technology-based instruction. At least in those schools and districts that weren't already digital-ready.
If your schools went fully remote, your learners suffered from inequity in broadband access and device compatibility. Even if you distributed devices, your higher wealth learners had access to better devices and better broadband. Your learners who suffer from housing insecurity may not have had electricity to charge their school-provided devices. So maybe you stayed hybrid and returned to face-to-face early. Your lost learners, the "missing kids" who never logged on, still suffered disproportionately. And these learners will continue to suffer long after your schools fully reopen.
As schools work to return to a state of normalcy, administrators will need to strategically focus on new challenges based on interrupted formal education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly for underserved learners. It got me thinking…
- What will academic equity mean as we return children to brick and mortar instruction?
- How will leaders identify the equity and accountability challenges of their schools?
- What criteria should be examined and relied upon to address and remedy those challenges?
- What types of instructional programs will historically- and newly identified underserved learners need to overcome the provision gaps they were dealt?
Forget the summer slide. The COVID slide is going to be a doozy. And it's going to take much more than an aggressive summer school, an August jump-start, or retaining in grade all students in high-poverty elementary schools! The COVID slide horrifically magnifies what's been happening for as long as we've taken measurements on achievement: a provision gap rooted in implicit and systemic bias.
Provision gaps and bias.
Let's unpack that. I'm going to use a term you've heard a lot during the pandemic, but never in the context of education: comorbidity. In school demographics, comorbidity is the presence of two unalterable demographic markers in a learner that have historically impacted academic success through no fault of the learner. Primarily race, socioeconomic status, and primary language.
Let's begin with bias because it is the root of all inequity. Bias in school funding formulas, facilities modernization, school health resources, teacher quality, instruction, and instructional materials, for starters.
If we want equitable outcomes, we must have equity in funding. Not equal dollars for every learner, but rather more dollars for those learners with more comorbidities. In most states, funding formulas are either equal or worse. Those based on property tax revenues are horrifically biased. Biased against the learners with the most significant comorbidities. Those who need more get less. And that funding bias is rooted in systemic racism that must be confronted. You can't modernize facilities or provide well-funded and staffed health clinics in schools without funding. But that's a long-term issue that requires much more than you as a school or district administrator can solve. So, we'll focus on two items rooted in bias that you can resolve: teacher quality and instructional materials.
If we want equitable outcomes, we must have equity in teacher quality. The most highly-qualified teachers should teach the learners who have the most significant comorbidities. But you can't fix this by simply shuffling the deck. You have to develop teachers to be highly qualified to meet your learners' needs. The ones in your schools. The ones whose data is reflected in your annual reports and state rating system.
If we want equitable outcomes, we must have equity in instructional materials. The most explicit, systematic, and rigorous instructional materials should be provided for those learners with the most significant comorbidities. It's nice to say, "All our learners have access to grade-level instructional materials." But define access. As educated adults, we have access to a significant number of professional opportunities. That doesn't mean we have the tool-skills to be successful.
Equity in Instruction
Finally, if we want equitable outcomes, we must have equity in instruction—the practice of teaching to the learners in front of us.To instruct with equity means that educators must first recognize, confront, and then work to free themselves of implicit bias. That's mindset work. And it isn't easy. This brings me to provision gaps.
A provision gap is a difference between demonstrated academic ability as measured by high stakes assessments, often annual state testing, and the required benchmarks of a grade level—the gap created by ineffective instructional methods and culturally inappropriate curriculum. The provision gap is the root of the achievement gap. And it is entirely our own doing, not the fault of the learner.
If we genuinely focus on equity post-COVID, we'll focus more on providing every learner precisely what they need as individuals to be as highly successful as they can possibly be. You see, your learners' lived experiences during the pandemic will significantly impact the level of social-emotional, disciplinary, and health services needed to impact the one thing we measure most: academic achievement.
And if we don't look at those things through the lens of equity, we'll never see what our learners need. Nor will we recognize that it's going to take more than out-of-the-box solutions to address each school's unique situations.
Granted, the two most significant factors influencing equity and learners' lived experiences during the pandemic are socioeconomic status and geography. It is a biased vision, a biased mindset, to even suggest holding back all learners in low wealth schools. Not every child eligible for free- or reduced lunch should be held back because of their economic circumstances! We must be mindful, skillful, and downright surgical. We must examine the data and develop solutions to address instructional outcomes during the pandemic.
So, what does academic equity mean as we exit the pandemic?
It means that administrators, leaders, are first focused on their learners and the challenges within their span of control. Not excusing themselves from improving outcomes because of challenges outside their span of control.
It means that administrators, leaders, first identify the equity challenges in their own schools. What is the actual level of teacher quality?
It means that administrators, leaders, question the appropriateness of instructional materials and the instruction itself. What types of instructional programs will historically- and newly identified underserved learners need to overcome the provision gaps they've been dealt?
It means that administrators, leaders, identify the accountability challenges in their own schools. Ask the questions: Who is accountable for what? Why? How's that working for our learners?
It means that administrators, leaders, seek professional learning and support resources for determining the criteria that should be examined and relied upon to address and remedy those challenges.
You've taken a step towards all of that just by getting to this sentence in this blog.
Now take the next.
I invite you to join my on-demand webinar to focus on the challenges you’ll face based on interrupted formal education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this session, you will learn to:
- Identify the equity and accountability challenges of your schools.
- Examine the criteria you’ll need to rely on to address those challenges.
- Determine instructional programs needed to overcome the provision gaps your learners now face.
- Use the Equity Maturity Matrix© as an assessment tool to help determine the need for, or focus of, additional professional development.
Register Now – watch at your own pace!