Equity: It’s past time to ensure all students can succeed
Every student deserves an equal opportunity to be successful in the classroom regardless of their circumstances. Students of color, students with disabilities, students who are English language learners, students from different backgrounds and family structures, students living in poverty as well as students who don’t— they all need support and resources that meet their individual needs. Focusing and ensuring equity in education means examining our policies, practices and mindsets and embracing different perspectives.
The benefits of inclusive and equitable classrooms are many: improved academic achievement, positive effects on social-emotional-behavioral health, feeling connected and having compassion toward others are well documented. That is why it is so important that we work to ensure that our schools are places where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging, inclusion and contribution.
To that end, we have launched a webinar series titled Social Justice and Equity in Education. We are planning on having two webinars each month now through March, which will culminate in a conference. This is an opportunity for our educational community to challenge our mindsets and teaching styles to ensure equity is woven throughout our education system. Throughout this series we will engage in an informed and rational dialogue on important diversity, equity and inclusion topics that impact our students, schools and communities.
If you missed last week’s excellent webinar, “It’s Okay to be Uncomfortable: Moving Toward Racial Equity in Education in Iowa,” you can watch the recording, which is accessible on our YouTube channel.
Next week, the Department of Education’s General Counsel Thomas Mayes will present “COVID-19 and Class Disparities,” which will examine the growing wealth gap during the pandemic and how that can affect our students. You can register here. We will post the upcoming webinars in School Leader Update each month, so be sure to check back.
The State Board of Education is also moving forward in pursuit of ensuring an equitable education for all students in Iowa by convening a State Equity Committee to focus on closing achievement gaps, improving teacher and leader preparation and creating a safe, healthy and welcoming learning environment. Recently, the state board selected seven students from across the state to join the committee to ensure students have a voice in this work.
While we are making progress in many areas, there is still work to be done. Doing the right thing means not only listening and respecting everyone’s voice, but also looking at ourselves and the roles our biases have contributed to inequities in our educational system. Acknowledging that barriers exist in our schools is necessary in order to break them down and set our students up for success.
I am encouraged by the commitment of our schools to engage students and families in difficult conversations about inclusion and equity and to actively listen to what they have to say. These conversations are integral to closing achievement and opportunity gaps and building a growth-minded school culture that benefits all learners.
Thank you so much for your dedication and keep up the great work!