At the Crossroad of Equity and Common Core
As the Chief Academic Officer of a 5-12 school I have done the unspeakable. I have asked my staff to focus on two things this year: equity in the classroom and deepened alignment to the Common Core standards. My school is made up of hard workers; a staff that pride themselves on overcoming all hurdles to provide the best possible education to the students of our city. Two foci could mean split vision, split PD time, and frustrated team members.
I know darn well that when asked to re-haul their curriculum to reflect the adopted standards, our teachers will throw themselves into the work. My team members are strong advocates of the Common Core. No one argues with the articulation of the expectations. However, stresses over the new demands of writing outputs, clarified expectations for math courses, hyper-awareness of reading levels, and uncertainty over the fast-approaching PARCC assessments hover over our school.
Listening to Students
Simultaneously, it is near-impossible to miss the truly diverse demographic of our student body. One short walk through our hallways highlights a near perfect division between students of color and white students. Underneath that visual demographic is further diversity; we teach the largest percentage of students with disabilities in Boston outside of Boston Public Schools and have over 40% of our students on free and reduced lunch. We have actively sought out our student’s opinion on their experience at our school and facilitate a yearly survey to gauge their connectedness to our community and their perception of the education that they are receiving. You can find the survey here. Some of the results have shaken our staff. Fourteen percent of our student body reported that they do not have a staff member they feel like they can talk to. When broken down by race, our students of color more likely to report this perception than our white students.
I was faced with two huge hurdles. I was faced with two necessary issues to dissect and address for our students to receive the educational experience they deserve.
How could I structure a school year’s expectations and professional experience so that our team members could feel that they were making headway on both of these initiatives?
After staring blanking at our PD calendar and struggling for the “right” words to kick start our welcome back orientation it hit me: these two initiatives are not separate. They are one in the same.
Linking Equity with Common Core
Student achievement, standards alignment, student growth—whatever you want to call it—cannot be viewed in a silo. Rather, our team needs to see that every thing we do – every decision we make with a lesson plan, every assessment we design, every classroom layout we consider, every student we greet and get to know, and every standard we teach – creates an environment for our students. We must be highly aware of our own biases. We have to deeply know our students, and not just their competencies in the classroom. We need to know their backgrounds, their hopes, and their understanding of themselves.
The “trick” in the 2014-2015 school year is for our school to understand that the adopted standards inform an aspect of our students experience of their educational path, but that the whole journey has to be devised, created, and implemented by our team. We could make that journey single-minded and not embrace the diversity within our community or we can make that journey a robust one; one that pauses for clarity, embraces difficult conversations, and encourages the development of cultural competencies in all of our community members.
I have learned the most difficult thing to do as a leader is shift mindsets. I am charged with shifting our staff’s mindset. I will know this two-focus approach has worked if at the end of the year our team members view it as one singular movement. I will know that our work has been successful when our alignment to the Common Core is done under the umbrella of equity.