Creating New Pathways to Equitable Education

Published June 11, 2018

By Heath Morrison, School Group President


Group in a library

For educators, the issues of educational equity – and the realities of educational inequity – are personal.

In my own time as a teacher, I saw educational inequity on a daily basis. I saw it in the faces of the students who felt out of place in our school because they were different from their peers. I saw it in students who struggled because they didn’t speak English. And, I saw it in students who couldn’t focus because they hadn’t had breakfast that morning.

Later when I became a superintendent, the issues around educational equity became even more evident, and even more concerning. I witnessed the same inequities I saw in my classroom, but I faced them on a far greater scale, both in terms of impact and reach.

As leaders and educators, we know that enrollment of minority students is not equally balanced across schools, and that today’s children see variations of the segregation their grandparents faced in past decades.1 We know that poverty is becoming more concentrated, and that, in the 2015-16 school year, 65 percent of students attending city schools did so in high-poverty or mid-high poverty districts.2 We also know that the achievement gaps persist among low income3, special education4 and minority students.5

Now, in my current role as a leader at McGraw-Hill Education, I still encounter the issues of educational equity every day. They have not become any less complex or any less pressing, and as much as some policy makers would like to discover a single solution that can help all students, or address the myriad of challenges teachers have to manage in classrooms across the country, such "silver bullets" remain elusive.

I do, however, believe that we have some excellent tools at our disposal – including powerful learning solutions that can help us effectively combat inequity in the classroom. Many of these solutions have already proven effective at improving outcomes for students disadvantaged by various forms of inequities. Having seen them in action myself, I truly believe that some of the most promising pathways to addressing educational inequities are simply waiting to be implemented – and by using a combination of innovative technology and meaningful partnerships, we can assist our educators in unlocking the full potential of every student.

Personalized Learning & Innovative Technology

It’s important to understand that equity does not mean equality, and it certainly doesn’t mean uniform teaching for every student; in fact, it means providing each learner with the individualized learning experience, tools and rigor that student needs at that particular moment in their education. Given that understanding, it becomes apparent that personalized learning must serve as a critical component of achieving equity in education.

Educators have been personalizing learning for their students for decades, but purposeful technology allows us to take that personalization to a much deeper level. Truly effective technologies, such as adaptive technologies that can deliver instruction based on what a student knows and needs to learn next, can personalize learning for the student and provide the teacher with the freedom to work individually with students who need additional supports. Purposeful technologies, which provide robust, real-time data, also provide educators with powerful insights into their students’ progress and gaps in knowledge, allowing teachers to further adapt and tailor their teaching to be even more effective.

However, technology alone cannot combat educational inequity. There is mounting evidence that the way technology is used in the classroom is paramount to its impact on student learning. Researchers are seeing an emerging trend where schools in poverty use technology less effectively than wealthier schools, even when the technology utilized in each school is the same.6 That’s why teacher training, strong leadership and a student-centered approach to personalized learning is crucial. Future Ready Schools, a planning and resource hub for schools looking to effectively implement technology, is an excellent resource for districts looking to adopt a student-centered, personalized learning strategy.

Community Outreach & Dynamic Partnerships

Educational equity is a complex, layered issue that extends beyond the classroom, and it cannot be solved by any single group in isolation. Addressing the factors in a child’s life that contribute to the obstacles they face or working to re-frame long perpetuated inequities requires extensive community outreach and dynamic partnerships.

Districts can further experiment with local partnerships to extend access to digital learning and broadband, while also engaging with organizations, such as libraries and youth centers, to provide additional spaces and experiences for learning. Parental engagement is also key. Ensuring that families have open, safe lines of communication with district leaders provides a platform for family voices to be heard and valued in a district’s plans to address the real inequities facing their unique community. Partnerships can also extend to organizations that support key areas such as personalized learning, interoperability or data safety, and that can bring a fresh perspective to an existing learning community. Education technology companies also can play a pivotal role in driving towards educational equity, when partnering with districts to better understand how learning materials can serve today’s increasingly diverse student population.

Throughout my career, across all of the education spaces in which I’ve served – from the classroom and to technology development – I’ve continually seen areas where we can engage more deeply in the equity work that we do. And, I’ve found many reasons to be optimistic, especially when I consider the excellent work that’s already being done in districts across the nation. Making progress will require us to persist in the face of challenges, both new and old. But if we continue to push our innovations further, establish trusting environments and work collaboratively with peers and partners, I’m confident that we can help build a better and more equitable world for all of our students.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of the American School Board Journal.


1 The Condition of Education. National Center for Education Statistics, 2017, The Condition of Education, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp.
2 The Condition of Education. National Center for Education Statistics, 2017, The Condition of Education, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_clb.asp.
3 Rabinovitz, Jonathan. "Local Education Inequities across U.S. Revealed in New Stanford Data Set ." Stanford University, Stanford University, 29 Apr. 2016, news.stanford.edu/2016/04/29/local-education-inequities-across-u-s-revealed-new-stanford-data-set/.
4 Information Request: Closing the Achievement Gap. Education Commission of the States, 2016, Information Request: Closing the Achievement Gap, www.ecs.org/wp-content/uploads/Information-Request_Closing-the-Achievement-Gap_August-2016.pdf.
5 Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017. National Center for Education Statistics, 2017, Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017, nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017051.pdf.
6 Reich, Justin, and Mizuko Ito. From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies. The Connected Learning Alliance, 2017, From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies, clalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GIROreport_1031.pdf.