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.
Building for Equity: Renewing Our Commitment to Culturally Responsive School Design
In the past four years working at CCE with educators and leaders around New England, I have worked in partnership with dozens of school teams attempting to make real change. Some of these changes have been school-wide, district-wide or, in a few notable instances, the development of a brand new school design, all with the primary goal for more equitable outcomes. And while I’ve yet to coach at a school that didn’t achieve some level of success, transformative equitable outcomes seemed almost unpredictable, with little correlation to the level of buy-in or the extent to which we achieved our other goals.
Racism, poverty, and ongoing school segregation seem to rival each other as some of the greatest scourges plaguing our attempts at equitable school improvement; and accountability structures, biased curriculum, and policy are beyond the control of individual schools. Still, many educators are working doggedly for justice in the face of these many inequities, and these educators seek resources to bring their efforts to fruit
The CCE team has learned a great deal from these educators about what truly works in the quest to better serve all students. As CCE’s own research studies have shown us and as our own practice has confirmed, there are consistent hallmarks of schools that will serve students of color and English Learners well – and reliable ways to build team and processes that are congruent to these hallmarks. And from these learned characteristics, the Building for Equity framework was born.
Our framework is informed by the wisdom that for durable change, we can’t settle for school improvement by incremental growth that barely meets the threshold of statistical significance. We can’t ignore a legacy of segregation, oppression, marginalization as we work - however earnestly. And we can’t respond to the nuanced diversity of our students in our school designs with a simple stated emphasis on cultural relevance. The process of innovating must ensure a strong, diverse representation, community-driven decisions, and equitable learning that includes an exploration of identity and bias. The new school designs must feature culturally-responsive curriculum, just policies, and broad community engagement. Moreover, the outcomes must be regularly monitored to ensure that the school does not stagnate in closing gaps in opportunity and achievement. To put it bluntly: we can’t pigeonhole equity as we move to be transformative: we must, instead, work at the very nexus of equity and creativity.
The Building for Equity framework provides practical resources for educators and school teams working toward school change who are aware that they must avoid quick fixes and easy answers but lack the guidance and tools to do so on their own. The Building for Equityguide, released on February 26th, includes guidance to support the identity- and systems-exploration work for educators, principles defining culturally-responsive schools, and, in greatest detail, guidance through a community-driven change process. This process, the Equitable Redesign Cycle, provides educators with a four-phase process for driving equity-focused school change—along with the tools they need to bring this to life in their own school settings. At every step of the way, we share examples from real schools, supplemental tools, helpful videos, websites to bring the concepts to life, and clear guidance to support effective planning and implementation.
The time is ripe for practical guidance to support sustainable and equity-focused school innovation. A renewed commitment to equity in our schools, both among those doing the work and those supporting it, requires effective resources and proven strategies to bring culturally-responsive teaching, social justice, and critical pedagogy to the fore, so that we are not only talking about equity - we’re building it.