Approaching DEI Improvement?
Apply a Framework to Ensure Progress.
Every journey begins with a step. As education agencies are increasingly focusing on creating more equitable school environments, school and district leaders are challenged with the tasks of 1) identifying the policies, behaviors, and practices that advertently or inadvertently foster inequities and 2) creating meaningful improvement strategies – often on a systematic level. This is no easy feat. In most institutions, operational policies and practices are deeply imbedded into organizational history and culture. Applying a strategic framework to DEI improvement efforts (assess, plan, implement, and monitor) can make real progress attainable.
Step 1 – Assess: What is an Equity Audit?
An equity audit is an evaluative process used to collect data for the purposes of 1) removing programmatic barriers that prevent equitable access to high-quality education for all students and 2) dismantling structural racism within the school community.
An outsourced equity audit, such as that offered by SchoolWorks, is typically conducted over a period of 3-5 days by a racially diverse team of reviewers utilizing a transparent set of standards aligned to research-based best practices. The review team collects data at the school(s) through methods such as document review, surveys, stakeholder interviews/focus groups, and observational walk-throughs. They then analyze and triangulate evidence to surface trends in the effectiveness of implementation of best practices across the domains of instruction, students’ opportunities to learn, educators’ opportunities to learn, and leadership/governance. After the site visit, the school or district receives a written report that formalizes the ratings and evidence of the evaluation.
While schools and districts prioritize the importance of DEI improvement work, many schools and districts express reservations about engaging in an equity audit. “We know what our issues are. An equity audit is only going to codify problems we won’t be able to fix.”
Perhaps your school team has similar concerns. For example, the racial composition of your teaching staff does not adequately reflect the diversity of your student population, but your local talent pipeline is limited. This may seem like an unfixable problem. It is worth noting that an equity audit does not solely function to surface problems such as this. In a more fundamental way, it serves to unify all of the stakeholders who will enter into the subsequent planning stage in a shared understanding of the current state of the school relative to the practices that shape problems such as this. Continuing with the example above:
- Do your current recruitment and hiring policies and processes promote a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment?
- Do all members of your staff believe that the school provides a working environment that affords equal access to job satisfaction, professional development, and growth opportunity for all staff?
- Do leadership and staff have a shared understanding of how they can enact practices that support and value diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Insights such as these provide context to the problem that can inform strategies for reform. Perhaps most importantly, the resulting equity audit report provides an objective, evidence-based snapshot of the school environment that serves as a baseline for improvement. It does not say, “Here are all of our faults.” It says, “Here is where we started our journey, with a commitment toward progress.”
Step 2 – Plan: Engaging an Equity Task Force
To ensure that the planning process itself is inclusive, many schools and districts assemble a dedicated Equity Task Force to engage in the work of developing a data-aligned equity plan. The task force (10-12 individuals) typically consists of school and/or district administrators, school board or governing board members, teachers, parents, students, and community partners. In a series of working sessions, participants move through various phases of the planning process:
- Explore the current state: Review findings from the site visit.
- Articulate the desired state: Describe the desired state of the school in detail.
- Assess challenges: Identify gaps between the current and desired states.
- Prioritize: Rate gaps by their impact, alignment, potential cost, etc.
- Conduct root cause analysis: Develop problem statements and set goals.
- Determine success measures: Set milestones to assess progress.
- Identify strategies: List strategies aligned to goals and measures.
In a recent blog post, The Five Benefits of Facilitated Improvement Planning, we highlighted some of the key reasons that school teams opt to utilize a third-party facilitator to aid in annual school improvement planning. When engaging in planning work that is specific to diversity, equity, and inclusion; there are even more reasons to consider an outside facilitator. Most obviously, conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable. Even a school leader who is adept at facilitating annual improvement planning may not feel adequately trained for this task. In addition, s/he may feel that leading the planning process inhibits other participants from speaking freely. Another consideration – if your organization utilizes an Equity Task Force, your planning team may include several “green” members, who are not accustomed to participating in school planning. An outside facilitator can provide the objectivity to lead difficult conversations and the expertise to accommodate all levels of participant experience.
Step 3 – Implement and Monitor: Measuring Progress
Much like school improvement work, the work of dismantling systemic inequities is an ongoing effort that requires humility (We can do better.) and continual focused commitment (We will do better.) As the school team implements the resulting equity plan, progress should be measured – and celebrated – on a regular basis. To support this, schools and districts may consider using the equity audit process as annual or bi-annual means of tracking and codifying outcomes in order to share them with students, parents, and the community at large. It is through this cyclical process of assessment, planning, and monitoring that schools can identify – and share – effective strategies that yield tangible impact.
Find Out More. If you’d like to learn more about SchoolWorks Equity Audits, reach out to us.