By: Michael D. Moriarty Ed.D.
Equity is a major topic at all levels of education currently in Vermont: state, district, and local. Recently, a joint VSA/VSBA retreat focused on their meeting on the topic of equity. The group (involving superintendents, school board, VSA/VSBA, AOE, principals, college, curriculum, etc.) worked on a definition for equity for VT. The definition states:
Educational equity means that each and every student receives the resources and educational opportunities they need to learn and thrive.
- Equity means that a student’s success is not predicated nor predetermined by characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, economics, class, geography, disability, language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or initial preferences.
- Equity means that every school provides high quality curriculum, programs, teachers and administrators, extracurricular activities and support services.
- Equity goes beyond formal equality where all students are treated the same. Achieving equity may require an unequal distribution of resources and services.
- Equity involves disrupting inequitable practices, acknowledging biases, employing practices that reflect the reality that all students will learn, and creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children.
Going back to the question of “do we, as educators, have the moral courage to do what’s best for our kids?”, I think the answer to that question is “yes.” In Vermont, we are seeing philosophies and practices shift away from the traditional system of education to a system that is more equitable for all students. Recently, I attended a curriculum leaders meeting and was able to participate in a workshop that mimicked some of the teaching practices that reflect equity in the classroom. Students and teachers from Harwood Union High School presented on the power of dialogue in creating equity in the classroom. I liken the workshop to that of a "Socratic Circle" but with a different approach. You can watch the real thing here.
The part of the workshop I enjoyed the most was being able to interact with the students in a manner where we were all learning together because of the dialogue that was created through the experience. As an educator, I think about how this method of assessment and feedback for both teachers and students is truly authentic. Isn’t that what we ultimately want for students in an equitable education system? Authentic experiences allow students to practice transferable skills, which will allow them to thrive in a variety of situations.
On January 26th, 2018 we had an professional development day in OCSU with Great Schools Partnership. The focus of the day was about “the Why” behind proficiency-based learning (PBL) and how a system such as PBL leads to equity in schools. Teachers spent a great deal of time reflecting on the image below:
Some examples of teachers' reflections:
I used to think that PBL was just another program being forced through the schools by the government...I now think it's a great way to collaborate high and low level students together in one learning environment.
I used to think that equity was just being fair...And now I think there is more aspects to equity within a school and how we can promote that equity within an organized school system.
I used to think fairness was not as prominent in overall education and stands alone...And now I think it is “up and coming with an associated partner” equity.
I used to think PBL couldn’t be applied equitably to all of our students, including those with intense needs...And now I think they can be modified to meet the needs of individual learners.
I used to think that fairness was not sufficient to equity...And now I think that fair might be more directed in a more personalized path for each individual.
Quotes like these reaffirm that we are on the path to creating equitable systems of education and that we do in fact have the moral courage to do what is best for our kids. The conversations that are currently happening around issues of equity are so critical to our work as educators. It creates the opportunity to rethink the constructs that have shaped education over the last 150 years in the United States especially at a time when the World around us is rapidly changing.