All In: Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Education
The concepts of diversity, inclusion and equity are often discussed in education, but less frequently understood. They are rarely opposed in abstract and general terms, but can face resistance when implementation is sought. If we, as educators, hope to achieve the goal of providing access, opportunity and high levels of learning for all students, we must have a shared understanding of what diversity, inclusion and equity mean, how they intersect and, most importantly, how they impact student achievement.
For our purposes, diversity can be defined as students from various backgrounds. As a nation and a county, we are becoming more diverse. Inclusion is the act of bringing diverse students together in a manner that celebrates and values their backgrounds. Equity is the process of ensuring that each student has the access and opportunity needed to realize this full potential.
The concepts make the best sense together—diversity requires inclusion to be valuable; inclusion must be structured so that equity increases; and increased equity leads to improved student outcomes.
Educators have an obligation to think about how we can hold ourselves accountable for equity. Equity accountability is one of the most important areas of work in public schools today.
Equity accountability demands that we think about:
- how we use our resources;
- how we staff schools;
- how we prepare educators and provide them with professional learning throughout their careers;
- how we measure student progress and achievement, as well as school climate and access, and;
- the well-being, physical, social and psychological, and the learning of each and every student every day.
Consider allocations, for example. Is it fair to allocate one reading expert to each school when some schools have 20 struggling readers and others have 200? Is it fair that in one school, the staff is comprised of experienced teachers who hold advanced degrees, but at another school more than a quarter of the teachers are first- or second-year teachers? Is it fair that one school offers few or no advanced mathematics classes, but another school offers multiple opportunities to accelerate into highly advanced mathematics study?
How do we know that we have equity in education? Why do we monitor student results by various student groups, such as race and poverty? Does equity only exist when all student results are the same? Questions like these drive our search for equity accountability.
We do not expect that all students will perform exactly the same in order to achieve educational equity. We do know, however, that when the differences in student performance are identifiable and even predictable by characteristics such as race/ethnicity and poverty, we do not have educational equity. When schools serving communities with similar characteristics have disparate student results, we do not have educational equity. When poverty is not a factor but we still see differences in student performances by race/ethnicity, we do not have educational equity. And although we may see equitable results in some schools, until we see them in all schools, we do not have educational equity.
In Montgomery County, the equity accountability model that we have developed focuses on performance of students who have traditionally underperformed. The model is designed to hold schools accountable for all students, but particularly, for students who have not been successful.
We must determine whether our practices are contributing to their lack of success. When we find that to be the case, we must make necessary changes even if they cause us discomfort, disrupt the status quo or create political risk.
Equity in education is about access and opportunity to learn. Equity works with diversity and inclusion to ensure that students get what they need. Some students need more support than others. Providing that support is our collective responsibility.
Not only must we provide additional resources, but we must also adapt those resources to the unique needs of each student. In particular, those students who have limited adult support outside of school are totally dependent on the adults in schools to guarantee their opportunities to learn. If adults accept failure, so will the students. We must be relentless in providing multiple opportunities for student success. The equity challenge is that we never give up on our students and, more importantly, that they never give up on themselves.