The title of this article might seem redundant, but actually equity is a term used in a variety of ways, even within the education realm. It has been used to describe funding, geographic, wealth, and racial disparities. Maybe the Merriam-Webster dictionary comes closest to the definition for education and citizenry; “Justice according to natural law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.” In simpler terms, Dictionary.com defines it as, “Something that is fair and just”. It would be difficult to argue that Minnesota, or anywhere else, has achieved the ultimate objective of full equity. Still, we must pick up speed and enlist commitment as we journey toward it.
It is important for educators, policymakers, and all stakeholders to recognize the difference between equity in education, and equality in education. Essentially, the difference is this: in an “equal” system, all students are given the same resources. In an “equitable” system, resources are given to students based on their individual needs. (McGraw Hill, 2018)
The cumulative effect and complexities of COVID19, the George Floyd killing, political and racial unrest, tempt us to give up, and think there is “nothing we can do.” When, in fact, we need to be thinking, “We must do something.” And it is likely it must be something new.
When Minnesota’s public schools went to hybrid or distance learning in the spring of 2020 about 28 percent of students lacked adequate high-speed internet and 18 percent didn’t have the devices they needed to attend virtual classes. (Boston Consulting Group and Common Sense). Although inequities in students’ access to technology has existed for years, the importance of that inequity has never been more glaring for students’ school success than it is in distance learning. That gap in access disproportionately affects the learning of kids of color, rural communities and indigenous communities. (Andrea Wood, Best Buy’s Social Impact Team)
Last summer the State of Minnesota committed, in conjunction with Best Buy and other partners, to ensure all learners have equal access to high-speed internet. Help is on the way and underway. But some course changes are required for the kids whose life outcomes will depend, in part, on our ability to differentiate instruction and provide an equitable education for all.
A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota as one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. (MPR News)
Urgency and opportunity compel us to look for new ways to address teaching and learning discrepancies in an equitable way. Here are some examples of school systems in Minnesota striving to do that.
Minneapolis Public Schools are constructing an equity framework with diverse members of the community as its architects. Their starting point is recognition of the different lenses through which we view education and how it is shaped by skin color, level of privilege, and life experiences. That may be the starting point, but there is a long distance to travel before we reach real equity in our schools. MPS describes what genuine equity in education looks and feels like.
Educational Equity Looks Like:
- Authentic relationships with and among students, staff and families
- Culturally responsive pedagogy
- High expectations for all students
- Representative enrollment in advanced courses
- Reflective and adaptive curriculum
- Welcoming and safe school environments
- All students meeting grade level and graduation expectations
- System-wide outcomes that contribute to a more just world
Educational Equity Feels Like:
- I am valued for my strengths and contributions
- I am respected for who I am
- My voice is heard and appreciated
- I feel cared about and I care about others
- I see myself represented in curriculum
- I feel comfortable and welcomed at school
- I am academically confident and challenged
- I am empowered to achieve my goals, dreams and full potential
- I see my place and responsibility in creating a more just society
In Dakota County, 6 school districts and 29 schools have partnered with the nonprofit 360 Communities to provide students and families access to Family Support Workers. Family Support Workers listen, learn, build relationships, and connect families with available resources to address food security, homelessness, safety, and healthcare. Family Support Workers serving students who are academically challenged for a variety of reasons, encourage the students and parents they serve to jointly set school success goals. Among students with attendance goals, 77 percent reached their goal. Among those setting academic goals, 79 percent met their goal toward improved academic performance. Of those whose goal was improved communication between home and school 81 percent met their goal. (jmortensen@360 Communities.)
Moorhead Area Public Schools has responded to equity gaps by forming an Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council. They have hired a local community leader to a new position created to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion for the district. Their starting point is recognizing, “the historical conditions and barriers that have prevented opportunity and success in learning for students based on their races, ethnicities, incomes, and other social conditions.” (www.moorheadschools.org/news/)
The Minnesota Department of Education recognizes that, “Eliminating those structural and institutional barriers to educational opportunities requires systemic change that allows for distribution of resources, information and other support depending on the student’s situation to ensure an equitable outcome.” In short, we need to think and act differently.
While many of us may think screen-time and computer games are detrimental to learning and a source of student isolation; we simultaneously think of football, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. as social building blocks for well-rounded students that grow school spirit. Unfortunately, typical school sports are exclusive, leaving out students who don’t have the interest, resources, or attributes to participate. Most students won’t or can’t participate, except to cheer on the school “heroes” of a particular sport. There is an emerging option…
Electronic sports (Esports) are an incredibly fast-growing phenomena that is taking the world, and school districts, by storm. Esports teams engage students who may be unlikely or unable to participate in traditional sports and allows them to experience the camaraderie, competition and recognition that other sports teams enjoy.
Esports high school teams have practices, coaches, structure, and teammates. One of the school Esports organizations, The Minnesota Esports Club values include Leadership, Teamwork, Reliability, Anti-Toxicity, Friendship, and Community.
The Minnesota Esports Club was founded and incorporated as a nonprofit 501c3 in 2019 by a Wayzata High School student group. Led by former faculty adviser Peter Young, the group quickly grew to over 80 participants and has spread across district, state and national boundaries. Early success was achieved with national championships and three full-ride scholarship offerings to four-year colleges. (http://www.minnesotaesports.org/)
This article presents just a few examples of how schools and school leaders embrace the opportunity to discover new ways to recognize and address old, unanswered challenges for the benefit of all. “We must figure how out how to Connect to the challenge, Include the right people at the table, and Create equitable opportunities in order to design better outcomes for kids.” (Education Elements)
“We exist within a culture of white supremacy, one that advantages white people at every turn. This privilege is implicit and designed to go unnoticed by you and me, but it is always present and it is powerful.” (White educators of Minneapolis Public Schools)