Delivering on our promise of equitable education

September 20, 2019

Fall is in the air and school playgrounds are hubs of activity where teams are formed and games are played. Imagine one hundred children lined up ready and excited to play. Immediately sixty are benched, and only forty are allowed to play. We would never allow this on the playground; however, this is what is occurring daily in Literacy instruction. This scenario mirrors our Early Literacy scores, which show that while forty percent of fourth-graders score proficient, barely twenty percent of historically or underserved Black and Hispanic do. Team Literate vs Team illiterate; this inequity impacts lives and silence voices.

Equitable education is the critical issue facing public education today and the root cause of the achievement gap. This is the major issue facing public education today, and the tangled roots of inequity are deeply embedded within our educational system. Inequity is the root cause of the achievement gap, and the disparity of opportunity directly impacts student achievement and creates marginalized groups of learners in urban, suburban, and rural schools. We’re working hard, but failing children. The effects are profound.

Strikingly, the notion of educational reform is evident in 1966 writings, yet in 2019, our children are still caught within the inequity of education and trapped by the disparity of learning opportunities. Literacy is the process of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and are the way we connect, communicate, and interact within society. The difference between literate and illiterate are two letters, but those two letters remove voices from the greater conversation.
Although educators have been resolute about closing gaps for over three decades, they have had little success.

As teachers, we’re working hard, yet the reality is that what we are doing is only working forty percent of the time and only twenty percent of the time for our underserved student groups. Teachers are showing up every day with the best of intentions; however, we continue to get the same results. Nationwide Data paints a clear picture of the achievement gap and points to the need for equitable access to research-based curriculums, explicit and systematic foundational skills instruction, and standards-aligned instruction in knowledge-based competencies. First and best instruction consisting of grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and high expectations belongs in every classroom.

We must shift our perspective and look beyond grade levels to take a balcony view of the K-5 Literacy continuum. Research-based systematic phonics instruction and the skill-based competencies are the nuts and bolts of reading and the foundation of Kindergarten through third-grade literacy instruction. Skills-based competencies are the scaffolding to the truss bridge of literacy and they provide critical supports to knowledge-based competencies. Knowledge-based competencies are developmental beginning at birth and continue through adulthood. They include concepts about the world, the understanding and expressing of complex ideas, vocabulary, and oral language. Research shows that Skills and Knowledge-based competencies are interrelated and critical for academic success, and both must be present in literacy instruction.

This is an adaptive challenge that requires personal change. Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky (2009) stated that “making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew” (p. 19). Education reform is achievable through equitable access to research-based curriculums, explicit and systematic foundational skills instruction, and standards-aligned instruction in knowledge-based competencies. The stakes are high; however, as educators, we are at a unique pivot point. By providing students access to grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and high expectations, we will improve our literacy instruction.

As a community, we must create opportunities to take action to build literacy. Families, caregivers, and communities are full partners in their children’s education. When all stakeholders engage in the work together, we increase opportunities for all students and break cycles of poverty within our communities. As a community, we must engage in advocating and supporting literacy within our homes and schools. Classroom learning must transcend classroom walls and engage communities as stakeholders in learning.

It is not enough to merely address the topic of equitable education; as teachers, we must reflect and make adaptive changes to our instructional practice to ensure that all students receive access to grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and high expectations. Equitable first and best instruction belongs in every classroom. We are the first line of opportunity to ensure every child receives an equitable education. It’s their future; it’s our responsibility, it’s a call to action! Let’s change the game!

Claudia Ladd, NBCT

Elementary teacher, with sixteen years of classroom teaching experience, who excels in cultivating and maintaining positive and productive relationships with all educational constituencies including parents, students, administrators, and the community.