How School Leaders Are Accelerating Opportunity for Students in Kansas City and Milwaukee

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep inequities in our public schools. Even before the pandemic, students of color, from low-income families, with thinking and learning differences, or who are learning English were far less likely than their peers to be getting what they need out of school. But the unprecedented disruption in our education system over the last year makes it more important than ever to think creatively about ways to close this opportunity gap and help all students reach their potential.

Fueled by this understanding, a group of 12 school leaders in Kansas City, Missouri and Milwaukee, Wisconsin are working to identify and dismantle systems that perpetuate inequity for their students—and create new ones that ensure all students have access to the four resources we identified in The Opportunity Myth as being especially crucial to their success: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and high expectations. The work is part of our Opportunity Accelerator program, which helps schools better understand their students’ access to the four resources, identify inequities, and design solutions that will make an immediate impact.

With support from TNTP, participants in the Opportunity Accelerator gathered data on their students’ current experiences in school and received regular coaching to help develop an action plan. Schools also came together to share their goals, learn from each other’s progress, and deepen their understanding of the four resources.

While each school’s specific focus areas were unique, they took the same three major actions to live their commitment to equity—actions that all schools that value equity can and should take now:

  1. Make a public commitment to equity: Ensuring all students get access to the four resources isn’t the work of one person. While school leaders are ultimately responsible for setting a vision that’s grounded in equity, it’s the work of everyone in a school community to realize the vision. That’s why publicly naming equity as a priority is one of the most powerful steps any school leader can take. It’s the first step to helping stakeholders understand the “why” behind any school improvement efforts and the path towards achieving more equitable outcomes. For Opportunity Accelerator leaders, this looked like a public equity statement that defined what equity in action looked like for their school community. Staff had a chance to weigh in on the equity statement, offer feedback, and spent time discussing their role in making it a reality.
  2. Collect data—disaggregated by demographics—and use it to set measurable goals: After naming equity as a priority, school leaders focused on defining what equity looks like in practice. The first step was gathering data on students’ current experiences and access to the four resources, and analyzing that data to identify gaps in equitable access. We helped Opportunity Accelerator participants create an “opportunity scorecard” for their schools, using a modified version of the methodology we used in the research for The Opportunity Myth. The scorecard focused on access to the four resources, with special attention on understanding how access differed for students of color, with special needs, and those learning English. Schools used this data to set measurable goals that they could work towards and ultimately hold themselves accountable for meeting.
  3. Integrate equity into current practices: Equity isn’t a goal that exists separate from the core work of educating students. Rather, it is the work to be done, to ensure all students have access opportunities that will help them reach their life goals. Rather than launching their focus on equity as an “initiative” that the community might view as disconnected from the school’s long-term priorities, school leaders should embed equity work into all their current systems and structures. Participants in the Opportunity Accelerator did this in many different ways, from using teacher development time to build capacity on grade-appropriate assignments; to focusing classroom observations on increasing access to the four resources; to repurposing department time to discuss race, power, and privilege, and their implications for educators’ roles in advancing equity.

While this work is complex and requires a multi-year commitment to disrupting the longstanding inequities in our schools, transformational change is possible—and it doesn’t require an equity expert to take the first step. If you’d like to learn more about how to bring equity to life in your school, join us for a webinar on April 6 to hear from some of the school leaders who participated in the Opportunity Accelerator.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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