Discussing and developing equity strategies can lead to significant improvements in student performance, and as Dr. Tyrone Howard of UCLA explained during a recent edWebinar, starting the process by looking at data on both students and teachers is a crucial first step toward mutual understanding and effective solutions.
Dr. Howard, who is an associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion and a professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, pointed out that a focus on the data and the ways learning occurs in the classroom provide a factual basis for constructive conversations that build agreement about systemic improvements. And while the process may be challenging at times, it is increasingly important as schools become more diverse, and as performance gaps persist between different subgroups.
Analyzing and discussing
Data presented by Dr. Howard shows how high school graduation rates vary among different ethnic groups, and between males and females within those groups, resulting in wide disparities with African-American and Hispanic males as being especially at risk. Data on fourth-grade NAEP proficiency showed similar patterns but also included low results for students with disabilities or limited English proficiency, as well as those receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
Dr. Howard also focused on suspension rates and other discipline data, which can be more subjective due to varying definitions, but has also been found to have a significant impact on academic outcomes. And, an additional chart providing data on America’s teachers showed the vast majority are white females, most of whom only speak one language.
Two other data sets can contribute to the equity discussion and strategy development process. One is an equity survey, which includes the types of data mentioned above, but also adds access to higher order classes, as well as an evaluation of the inclusiveness of the curriculum. The other important data source is classroom observation, focusing on the instruction and on the classroom environment and student activity within it.
Looking at these types of data within a district or school can be an effective starting point for discussions about equity, according to Dr. Howard, because there can be agreement about the shared set of facts. The facts can then serve as the basis for what are likely to be more challenging discussions about causes and effects, and what can be done about them. In many cases, discussions will need to include consideration of the societal disadvantages that some students face due to their ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status.
To keep the conversations productive, Dr. Howard recommends sharing stories and making sure to consider others’ perspectives, as well as expressing a desire to support participants and identify potential solutions. A key topic should be why programs and results are not proportional across different subgroups, and what can be done to increase the success of students in lower performing groups without adversely impacting students who are doing well.
To make effective progress, the implementation of equity strategies must be a sustained process that includes new policies and procedures, as well as continued data-driven discussion. It cannot be a one-day PD session, or a single lesson or packet. According to Dr. Howard, leaders set the tone, bystanders need to speak up, and racially diverse members of the staff must be heard and supported. Parents also should have their say, in part through surveys and focus groups.
A focus on literacy is crucial because it is the key to all subject areas and content. Dr. Howard recommends explicit phonics instruction and every teacher reading aloud every day, even in high school, because students need to keep hearing fluent and animated reading. Students should also be reading an hour each day, and daily writing is a “huge equity move” when it enhances critical thinking skills and helps students learn to make evidence-based arguments and justify their understandings.
Effective study and communication skills also need to be taught, and rigorous instruction should be combined with lots of discussion, including small-group conversations, debates, and seminars. The classroom should be an intellectually stimulating environment in which there is activity and energy that make learning more engaging.
Staff members also need strategies and procedures for dealing with challenging students, so that discipline issues don’t disrupt learning and result in poor outcomes. One-on-one conversations can be effective because challenging students then get the attention they often are seeking, and have an opportunity to express themselves in a more productive way. Sharing stories about each other, identifying what the student wants and teacher needs, and then finding win-win solutions are key parts of the process.
Students who do not engage or participate may be a challenge of a different sort, and Dr. Howard recommends not giving them “permission to fail.” Instead, the same types of one-on-one conversations can be used to identify root causes and find solutions, so that the students are being held to high standards but are also receiving the support they need to succeed.
In these and other ways, the implementation of equity strategies can result in better academic and personal outcomes, enabling diverse students and their schools to achieve their full potential.
About the presenter
Dr. Tyrone C. Howard is a Senior Fellow and author at the International Center for Leadership in Education. He is also a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, as well as Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. His research examines culture, race, teaching, and learning, and he has published several bestselling books exploring these topics, including Expanding College Access for Urban Youth. As the director and founder of the Black Male Institute at UCLA, Dr. Howard leads an interdisciplinary group of scholars, practitioners, community members, and policymakers dedicated to improving the educational experiences and life chances of males of color. He was the recipient of the 2015 UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 2016 and 2017, Dr. Howard was listed by Education Week as one of the 60 most influential scholars in the nation informing educational policy, practice, and reform.
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