Equity is the challenge of the day. There are flashpoints everywhere — in our society and in our schools.
While these frustrations have been there for years, the issue seemingly came to a head earlier this spring when school buildings closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, forcing students, parents, and teachers into distance learning. The problem of societal inequality has become even more stark in recent days, as organizers in dozens of states take to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd and shout down systemic racism.
Last month, K12 Insight convened a national conversation with leading superintendents. The conversation, which took place prior to Floyd’s death, focused on providing practical solutions for educators, as they plan to restart school in the fall.
As school leaders plan for back-to-school amid civil unrest and the lingering effects of a global pandemic, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa offered a word of caution:
“Equity is going to be a huge challenge. The equity warriors are the ones that are going to have to keep an eye on how we progress and move everybody with us. The definition of equity is we’ve got to give more to those who have the least.”
Dr. Luvelle Brown, superintendent for the Ithaca City School District in New York, agreed. Brown drew a parallel between our schools and our society that has proved even more prescient in recent days.
“I would say that the areas of equity for our schools are similar to those in our communities,” said Brown. “Issues around food insecurity, housing insecurity, access to broadband internet. Those are all things that our schools and community need to partner on to bring some more equitable opportunities and experiences to the young people and families in our spaces.”
The digital divide, including access to devices and reliable internet, is a concern for many school leaders working to ensure equitable access to education for every student.
“We know that some of our students have struggled in this digital world more so than others,” said Dr. Debra Pace, superintendent of the School District of Osceola County in Florida, “and those are the students who are going to need the most help. When we go back to school, the gap is going to widen as opposed to narrowing. So we are really focused on what we can do to accelerate learning for those students.”
For Dr. Brown, the re-entry of students post-COVID-19 is an important time to rethink equity and access, and says that work is already underway in many of his schools.
“I am drawing some energy from the innovations that are taking place. I’ve been surprised at how fast we’ve been able to shift in reimagining our schools. I’ve also been surprised at how our community has rallied, most of our community has rallied around issues around equity and access.”
Still, Dr. Brown is wary that education brought about in the wake of COVID-19 may not reach every student–especially those historically in need of the most support.
“It’s going to be an interesting conversation and we’re going to see where our communities fall as far as are we prepared to offer this new normal to everyone? Or just to those who have traditionally benefited from our schools and who have had privileges? I don’t want to go back to the status quo. I want to use this opportunity to inspire us to take the next step as far as policies and practices to adjust inequities that have plagued us and hurt young people who’ve grown up in poverty and who look like me.”
As the broader dialogue around racism and inequity continues, K12 Insight will continue to focus on conversations specific to education and where we go from here.
Join us this Thursday, June 4 at 2pm EST/11 am PST for another important conversation about how school leaders can navigate the “new normal” and work for a more equitable experience for every student. This week’s conversation will feature:
- Alberto Carvalho, superintendent, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, FL
- Denise Juneau, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools, WA
- Kent Scribner, superintendent, Ft. Worth ISD, TX