CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
CCE’s Building for Equity framework and guide, available for free online, has a lot to offer schools in the current circumstances.
Right now, it feels to many of us like everything is falling apart. Precious ceremonies have been cancelled; many of our summer plans are broken; even our food supply chain is disrupted. Most of us know at least a few people who have been ill, and many of us are grieving. A historic number of our jobs have been lost, including hundreds of thousands of jobs in education. In the past, scarcity of resources has not brought out our best. As long as we have believed that education was a zero-sum game – that there would, that there must, be winners and losers – we have built, and continually reinforced, an education system that is unequal, inequitable, and unjust.
And now, amidst a pandemic, this is laid bare like never before. The inequities in our schools stand out starker than ever. One teacher said to me recently, “The 10% of students I suspected that I wasn’t reaching before are the same 10% who I haven’t seen in any of my online class meetings.” Inequities run rampant and cross sectors: children with disabilities and English Learners are lacking many of their usual (already sometimes inadequate) support systems; people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in health outcomes; and “geographical, income-based, and racial/ethnic disparities in technology,” while long present, are exposed anew by the move to remote learning.
This is why, more than ever, those of us in education must resist the siren’s call of normalcy. Hugh Vasquez at the National Equity Project stated, in a recent article:
When the COVID-19 crisis is over, we do not have to go back to business as usual in our educational system, or any other system for that matter. We just don’t. The question confronting us at the moment is not can we prepare to come back differently but will we?
At CCE, we couldn’t agree more. Just prior to the advent of the pandemic in the US, CCE released our guide to inclusive school redesign, Building for Equity. One of the principles behind its design was the belief that equitable school design is always essential, always “in season.” The unique present circumstances not only make the need for equity more obvious and obviate some of our usual constraints; they have made true redesign an essential exercise. We will have to rebuild, and we are aware of inequity. More than ever before, this requires an approach to addressing both of these simultaneously.
Driving equitable change
Building for Equity, available for free online, is just such an approach. The three critical drivers of Building for Equity remain constant, even in the present situation. They are intertwined, essential ingredients for any redesign work that will produce equitable outcomes. Namely:
Making equitable redesign work during a pandemic
The Community Driven Process leverages what we call the Equitable Redesign Cycle, a four-phase cyclical approach that begins with the assembly of the team, includes data-based inquiry, transitions to visioning and planning, and concludes with implementation and progress monitoring. This process is always present, and all of these phases, as well as the critical drivers above, work well even at present, though they require some modification. Modifications to anticipate during the pandemic include:
Although including students, working parents, and harried educators may require some creative thinking during a period of physical distancing, the payoff is immense. Every time I dig into an online meeting with a partner design team and hear the passion that its members bring, I find that the progress is well worth the awkward pauses, unmuted mics, and clipped audio that we have come to accept as a part of our meetings. Someday we will forget these minor annoyances as well as the significant effort it took to bring everyone together. But if we’re fortunate, the changes to our schools will ensure more equitable approaches and stronger student outcomes, which will have ramifications for our students long after the memories of the pandemic have started to fade.