Promoting Equity in Education through Leadership

Kate Gallagher
Kate Gallagher
LIEP Supervisor for PA School Districts; M.A. in Urban Education, ESL Program Specialist
Blocks with “identity, equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging” printed on them stack up to an image of a light bulb above “belonging”

Equip yourself with the skills needed to promote equity in education within your school by pursuing an advanced degree in educational leadership.

What is Educational Equity?

In Pennsylvania, equity has been defined as “every student having access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, family background and/or family income.”

The term “inequity” refers to the unfair or inequitable distribution of (material and non-material) access and opportunity (Gorski, 2019). This inequitable distribution could be based on the institution’s historical policies and procedures that embody lenses of stereotypes, prejudice, and racism. Stakeholders and educators may also hold personal beliefs that influence their decision-making and impact access and opportunity for students.

How are Students Impacted by a Lack of Equity?

The impacts of inequities in education arise covertly and overtly, which is why leadership for educational equity is essential. The range of effects is as small as one student in one classroom but can be measured throughout schools, districts, counties, states, and even nationally. Students and families are personally impacted when access and opportunity are inhibited by district or school inequitable policies, procedures, and practices.

These inequities ultimately affect school culture, student achievement, post-secondary education and career outcomes, student mental health, participation in extracurricular programs, disciplinary dispositions, and academic grades. Inequities can exist based on economic opportunity, gender, race, ethnicity, language, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Lack of equity and inclusion in one area is not necessarily isolated in impact. Intersectionality compounds the effects of inequities to students and groups.

Common examples of a lack of equity within public schools could include:

Extracurricular Activity Fees

In a district with a low-income rate of 30%, asking cheerleaders to pay over $100 for a warm-up suit reflects a lack of equity. More than a quarter of the student population will not have the access or opportunity to be included and participate in this sport.

Back-to-School Supply Lists

For low-income families with one or multiple students, the back-to-school supply lists become a heavy burden and jeopardize opportunity and access to educational activities if parents cannot fulfill teacher and school list requests.

School Uniform Policies

This topic prohibits access and opportunity for students who are non-cisgender, as well as students of low-income families.

School Dress Code Policies

School dress code policies that prohibit students from putting their hoods up or wearing head coverings prohibit access and opportunity based on race and religion. Black and African American students who come from low-income homes might not have access to haircuts as often as necessary and should be able to wear head coverings. Additionally, students who wear head coverings based on religion should also be free to express themselves.

How can Leadership for Educational Equity Impact Equity in a School

When given the opportunity, educators should always educate themselves around equity, inclusion, and belonging. Educational leadership graduate programs with a social justice focus are the best ways to surround yourself with others who are also like-minded and growing while preparing yourself to do the work in practice.

Leaders set the tone for their schools, and good leaders lead from the front. In other words, be a leading learner. Model growth, and as soon as you know better, do better. This will set the stage for impacting equity within a school in a positive way. Leaders for equity listen to others, seek growth opportunities, ask questions, and then look critically at the policies, procedures, and practices already in place.

After identifying inequitable practices within a school, leaders for equity will advocate and make changes to those inequitable practices, policies, and procedures. It is also essential to recognize that it is impossible to do this work with others until you have done the work within yourself. Uncovering, examining, and demolishing your own biases and stereotypes is critical for creating educational equity.

When leaders don’t promote equity, not all students will have the access and opportunity they deserve. Often, inequitable practices become the norm and harder to banish. Beyond that, the culture of your school will be one of privilege and exclusivity, which breeds unkindness and hate.

Ways to Promote Educational Equity in Your School

Valuing Diversity

Accept and respect differences: different cultural backgrounds and customs, different ways of communicating, and different traditions and values.

Being Self-Aware

Being able to express your identity and what makes you you is the start of relating to others. When we learn a second language, we start by translating and relating new words in the new language to our first language as a base. This is exactly how we learn about others, as well. It may be uncomfortable and not seem obvious at first, but we all have aspects of ourselves that reflect our natural or assimilated culture.

Listen and Observe

Be an active but quiet learner of how gender, ethnicity, culture, race, language, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, family background, and family income contribute to the identities of those within your school. Then start talking about it to others. Draw others into looking through a lens of equity and understanding of others.

Qualify Policy, Procedure, Practice

Question yourself and qualify each policy, procedure, and practice against what’s best for every gender, ethnicity, race, language, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, family background and family income. Is everyone included? Who is excluded? What needs to be done to ensure access and opportunity for all?

Create Inclusion/Belonging

Start taking the steps required to ensure access and opportunity for all. Eliminate exclusionary practices.

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