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Investigate equity in your district by listening

Student talks to teacher in hallway

Over the last year, I’ve seen the topic of equity become a pressing issue for schools across the nation. While districts have focused on working toward equity for years, recent research is showing us a shift from traditional versions of equity — which focus largely on race and ethnicity — to a focus on inclusivity and cultural competency for everyone. 

From providing support to LGBTQ+ students to having diverse classroom libraries, there are many meaningful actions educators are taking to begin to improve equity in their schools and help students embrace diversity

4 key surveys school leaders need to consider this school year

However, even with your best efforts, it’s hard to know if you’re doing everything you can to help all students and families feel like they belong. 

Do your stakeholders know what equity means? 

A common hold-up for school leaders is the understanding of what equity truly means. Sometimes a parent will react negatively because they think equity efforts will negatively impact their student. 

I’ve found when we survey people about the concept and definitions of equity, they support it. Sometimes the hesitation lies in the word — equity — because they don’t fully understand what it means. Once we define the “what,” we can move onto the “why.” 

“Education equity is achieved when we eliminate the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socioeconomic status or languages spoken at home.”
Navigating EdEquityVA: Virginia’s Roadmap to Equity
Virginia Department of Education
Office of Equity & Community Engagement

It is important to understand that when you define educational equity that it is action oriented. The definition should be able to be measured and applied to your schools and the unique needs of your students. 

Once you get people on the same page about equity, it becomes easier to implement changes and make improvements. 

Why you should prioritize equity this school year 

Even though the Biden-Harris Administration is making educational equity a priority, there’s much work still to be done. 

Students from low socioeconomic circumstances and underserved communities, as well as students with disabilities, English learners, students with different religious backgrounds and LGBTQ students, may face unique hurdles to their success.

53% of public school students are students of color

Making sure your district is affirming students’ experiences and identities is a great way to start building trust and creating equitable spaces. As you approach this school year, it is essential that you invest in practices that discover the ways your schools are examining equity and ways in which you can improve. 

Investigate the experiences and perceptions of your district

Listening to your students, families, teachers and staff is going to be an essential part of improving overall equity in your schools. 

A research-based survey can help you investigate equity in your district by helping you understand the experiences and perceptions of your stakeholders.  

As a school leader, an equity survey can give you important insights on how people perceive equity, including whether:

  • All students have equitable access and opportunity to succeed
  • The district distributes resources equitably 
  • The district treats all students equitably 

We start our equity surveys with a definition — ensuring every stakeholder is on the same page about what we mean and we ask them to keep that in mind as they answer the questions. And then we dive into the perceptions stakeholders have on how the district, its leaders, and the teachers and staff value equity, and whether the district is welcoming to all families and students in the community. 

It’s important to dive deep to get a better understanding of equity among students of different academic backgrounds, cultures, economic backgrounds, genders, languages, races and ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. 

The insights garnered from the survey can help you identify areas to invest in — such as anti-bias training or new school policies. Surveys also help you learn how to communicate better about your purpose and intentions.This allows your stakeholders to  understand why it’s important to do equity work, and it communicates that equity is more than just a phrase in your district, but a continuous action. 

Improving equity in your schools starts with listening. Request a consultation with our team to learn how you can better understand the perceptions and experiences related to equity in your district. 

About the Author

Alexandra M. Weiss
Director of Research Alexandra M. Weiss conducts research on diversity, equity, and inclusion; employee engagement; school quality; student engagement; and more. She is completing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a minor in Education Policy Studies at Indiana University – Bloomington. She has a graduate certificate in Education Law from IU, a master’s degree from George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. She previously worked as a middle and high school English teacher and journalism advisor, and taught teacher education courses at Indiana University.

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