Leveling the Field: Equity across the Remake Learning Network

By grounding its work in equity, the Remake Learning network tackles 21st-century challenges.

Equity has long been a top priority for Remake Learning and its members. But how that term is defined can have an influence on how it is understood and what steps the network takes toward advancing equity. A new definition is helping Remake Learning take on deep, widespread inequities across the region.

Throughout 2017, Remake Learning held a series of roundtable sessions featuring small groups charting the network’s future course. Following an extensive, dialogue-based process, Remake Learning presented a revised mission in September 2017.

The network’s approach to equity now focuses on offering more support and more opportunities to those in greatest need. It’s a strategy based on the notion of targeted universalism, which pursues universal goals through targeted approaches aimed at directing resources to those who need them most.

“We certainly want to reach all students, but in particular those who have been most historically marginalized by systems,” said Sunanna Chand, Director of Remake Learning.

She explained targeted universalism using building design as a metaphor (a metaphor for which she credits Tyler Samstag at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit).

“If a building is designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, you create buildings that are accessible for everyone,” she said. “By focusing attention on students who need the most resources and support, we’re going to reach every single student. That’s the idea behind this new mission.”

Remake Learning’s roundtable sessions also generated five pillars of equity that the network will focus on: learners in poverty; learners of color; learners in rural areas; girls in STEM; and learners with exceptionalities. The focus on increasing access to high-quality learning opportunities for these populations is captured in Remake Learning’s mission:

When learning is equitable, more supports and opportunities are
afforded to those of greatest need. Based on national and regional
research, this means particular attention is paid to working
alongside, as well as uplifting and supporting the voices, strength,
and potential of: learners in poverty; learners of color; learners in
rural areas; girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and
math); and learners with exceptionalities.

These pillars emerged from a broad consideration of the different needs faced by students. Students of color, for example, face large gaps between themselves and their peers in academic performance, even when other variables are held constant. There are vast inequities for girls entering STEM fields, with a loss of interest and motivation at every academic transition point (i.e., going between middle school and high school, high school and college, etc.).

“But there is also a lack of broadband access in rural areas,” said Chand. “How does that affect education? These are opportunity gaps, inequitable access to opportunity.”

The systemic quality of much inequity is a key driver of Remake Learning’s revised approach, and understanding it is key to approaching the problem.

“If your education funding is closely tied to your property taxes, you’re facing limits that your wealthier, suburban counterparts are not,” said Lori Delale-O’Connor, Ph.D., assistant professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban Education and the Center’s former Associate Director of Research and Development. “There are also challenges associated with greater diversity, particularly if educators are not taught how to harness it as an asset.”

“Remake is this vast network,” Delale-O’Connor continues. “Because of that, it’s in a position to centralize issues of equity. It can really push people toward holding themselves and each other accountable. You can amplify the voices of people who are succeeding and support the people who are struggling. Remake can be part of the catalyst.”

Chand takes a similar view, emphasizing an “asset-based” approach to equity for Remake Learning. Rather than focusing solely on the deficits or problems of schools, learners, and demographic segments that have fewer resources, Chand sees opportunities to celebrate and support positive examples of innovative approaches and solutions across the region.

“Often equity conversations can be simplified to ‘We need to help these populations because they don’t have as much,’” said Chand. “When really our equity mission is to uplift the brilliance and voices of these populations, and to get all learners lit up by learning.”

In an earlier survey of the entire Remake Learning network, 43% of respondents stated that access and equity should be the network’s top priority.

Wrote one respondent to the survey, “A focus on equity is essential for Pittsburgh to be a place for ALL children and ALL communities.”

The Remake Learning’s asset-based approach is heavily informed by strong data on the location of schools within the network that face the greatest needs. A recently compiled report illuminates schools with the greatest percentages of learners of color, students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and learners with exceptionalities, helping Remake Learning target resources appropriately.

Or as Chand puts it: “Where is innovation happening across the region, and how do we shine a light on that work and let it grow and flourish?”

Published July 05, 2018

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