At our most recent Summit in April 2020, Victor Cary of the National Equity Project offered a poignant quote by Margaret Wheatley about the importance of listening, “When we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about the things that matter to us, the world begins to change.” It is in this spirit that we offer a brief series on diversity and equity as it relates to improvement science from Summit 2020. In the linked sessions, we hear how education leaders around the country started with equity and diversity and justice as a central piece of their improvement work, both in what they were trying to improve, and how they went about it.
THEME ONE: VULNERABILITY, LEADERSHIP, AND SHARED POWER
We have organized the series into themes highlighted across these sessions, beginning with sessions that highlight the topic of vulnerability, leadership, and shared power. As Betty Lugo from New York City Schools says, “We like to call the beginning of our racial equity journey, ‘we have to do something.’” They began by naming equity as part of their mission, which required leadership. Leadership for improvement requires that space is made for the vulnerability needed to undertake personal reflection and for other voices—those of students, families, and communities, for example—to be fully present at the table. As leaders at Georgia State shared with us at the Summit,
“What we did a decade ago at Georgia State—initially it was uncomfortable, but then it was quite liberating—is ask a very different question: Are we the problem? We put the mirror on ourselves. We used the data to analyze our own practices and policies for tripping up students. The logic was simple: We have a lot of control over what we do.”
THEME TWO: DATA & MEASUREMENT AND EQUITY OF VOICE
The second installment of the series will focus on two areas: data & measurement and equity of voice. Data is undeniably a powerful tool for understanding the disparities in our systems; it provides the insight and grounding needed to have important conversations about areas for improvement, focus, and priority. As Elaine Budish of UPD Consulting in the session, “Muddling Through Messiness: Reflections on Measurement Challenges for Equity and Improvement” called upon us to ask ourselves Do we understand how we will use data as a tool for centering equity in our practice? She points out that it is important to not only answer this question, but to make sure that everyone on our team understands it.
The connection of the second area—equity of voice—speaks to what kind of data is highlighted in our work. Sessions featured address the importance of attending to and engaging with the perspectives of those most affected by the system such as teachers, students, and families—those closest to the work and who should also be closest to the data.
THEME THREE: DESIGNING FOR EQUITY
The third part of this equity series highlights sessions focused on the importance of designing for equity. The Summit sessions we have selected highlight the importance of re-examining our systems and making changes to promote equity. Landon Mascareñaz from the Colorado Education Initiative reminds us that many of our existing systems inherently produce inequalities,
“The legacy of the systems that [we’ve inherited] is one of the greatest challenges of our time. All of these -isms that have been calcified in our system—racism, sexism, colonialism—represent the American design dilemma. If we’re faced with this American design dilemma where all of that is baked into our system, then the work of equity … is that we have to re-design the system to liberate us from the aspects of those systems, and crack them open so that new energy, new ideas, and new power can flow into the system and be re-designed and re-assembled in our current moment.”
We hope you find this equity series thought provoking and that the ideas catalyze larger discussions with your colleagues. We have included a few discussion questions and resources with each installment for this purpose. In many cases, the questions and resources were drawn directly from the relevant Summit sessions.
We Want to Hear From You
We look forward to continuing the conversation with you in our Continuous Improvement in Education LinkedIn Group or on Twitter. We also are excited to hear about your new and ongoing work across the field at the next Summit in April 2021.