Five Big Ideas from the Equity Project Research Roundtable

Cheryl Pruce

It was like being in a seminar led by a world-class professor—only in this case there were 28 professors, among the top scholars in educational equity. Faculty from Brown, Georgetown, and Stanford universities, leaders from the Clinton Global Initiative, Ford Foundation, and NAACP, and five members of the National Academy of Education including its current president, came to AIR’s Georgetown office on April 30 for the first Research Roundtable. Before they left, these intellectual powerhouses would articulate some of the major issues in need of address by AIR’s new Equity Project led by Peter Cookson.

“We are committed,” Cookson began, “to improving the educational opportunities for all students, particularly low income and minority students. We are in it for the long haul.”

“In this room are some the world’s most recognized leaders in the field of equity research and policy. We are humbled by your generosity, commitments and contributions to the field. We hope to learn from you and to work with you in the coming years. We are honored and promise you that your contributions will be prized and acted upon.”

The group responded with an outpouring of creative energy and seasoned pragmatism. It grappled with what equity means and possible pathways to a more equitable education system for today’s increasingly diverse American youth. Moving between the large collective and more intimate working groups, the experts brainstormed what became a broad outline of an equity research map from which The Equity Project could begin to chart its course:

  • Rethink the structure of our school systems. An equitable education system has curriculum that makes students of all backgrounds feel represented, and has discipline policies that don’t exclude minority males from the education process. We need to create structures and supports in teacher and principal pipelines, from preparation to tenure, that build competencies around equitable teaching and leading. The education system is layered—schools within districts, districts within states—and researchers must explore equity issues within and across those layers.
  • Deepen the knowledge of school entry needs for all children. Equity requires refining quality standards for school readiness, deepening our understanding of readiness patterns by race and class, and investigating current approaches or interventions that can assist children who don’t meet readiness standards.
  • Rethink and broaden our understanding of outcome measures related to equity. Equity includes the notion that all young people fully participate in their social and political systems to influence public policy, advocating for themselves and their communities. Researchers must develop broader equity outcomes that include measures of civic engagement and democratic participation, and that are empirically sound and politically viable.
  • Widen the scope of the discussion of education equity to include housing and economic structures. Equity goes beyond the schools walls; equitable education also includes addressing issues of economic inequality and housing and residential segregation.
  • Translate a well-crafted research agenda to spur policy change. Research can build a frame for the equity challenge; it can build a solid base of evidence. But if research can be translated into compelling stories that garner public and political support, then research can more deeply influence current education policies.

The next challenge will be using this equity road map to create an innovative research agenda that pushes educational equity forward in new ways. If you are inspired by this work, connect with us at