Draft Equity Policy Spring 2019

Over the past several months the School Committee (SC) has been working with district administration on a draft Equity Policy and we are interested in your feedback. The purpose of the policy is to establish a definition of equity for SPS and set a path towards achievement. Administration conducted research and shared policies from other communities and, with School Committee’s input, created this draft Equity Policy. The district is currently conducting focus groups of staff and students and I am publishing this blog post in the effort to increase awareness and obtain initial community input.  Below are some of the areas of School Committee discussion about the draft Equity Policy, which include but are not limited to the mission, the scope, levers to impact equity, and the distribution resources necessary to achieve the mission.

With respect to the mission, achieving equity means equal opportunity for success for all students, which may not result in the same experience for all students. Establishing equity necessitates meeting the specific needs of different students. The draft policy has explicitly included a definition of both equity and equality to clarify the difference. Decoupling the link between educational outcomes and any personal characteristic, including socioeconomic status or race, is the root of achieving equity. Creating a thoughtful equity policy provides the justification and license to pursue the challenging work of reconsidering the systems, structure and practice of public education that were originally developed in the context of class and cultural bias.

The sample equity policies that informed this draft ranged in scope from the broadest, equity being defined as opportunity for success for all, to more targeted, identifying specific populations that are currently disadvantaged (racial and/or ethnic identities). SPS must decide on our focus along this spectrum. With different yardsticks, including academic testing, dropout rates, college attendance and completion, data for students of color significantly differs from their peers both in the Commonwealth and at SPS. Targeting efforts on populations experiencing the greatest inequity may result in faster progress. The current draft uses broad language as well as naming populations experiencing the greatest achievement gap, to avoid exclusion but focus on the greatest need.

One lever to impact equity included in the draft which we have not deliberated on is pupil assignment. There is research that  demonstrates schools with greater socioeconomic balance result in better outcomes for all students, when compared to schools that have a significant majority of high-poverty students. Currently, student demographics vary in our schools, both with respect to race and socioeconomics. Although district-wide SPS has 60% high needs students (defined by DESE as students with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), former ELL students or low income students), populations in individual schools range from 31%-92%. Some of this variability can be attributed to targeted programing in some schools to serve the needs of ELL or special education students, as well as differing demographics in areas of the city. The district's controlled choice policy, where families may choose their school preferences without providing transportation, may also be impacting the distribution of students in schools. The current policy draft proposes an unspecified balanced representation of population in our K-8 and K-5 schools, which is a change from our current state. 

Successful equity initiatives involve reconsideration of systemic resource allocation, resulting in necessary additional resources for students with greater needs. SPS does this currently to meet the requirements of Individual Education Plans or English learners and when establishing class sizes, which may be reduced in schools or classrooms with a greater concentration of students with additional needs. The draft equity policy gives the mandate to institutionalize this practice district-wide, creating the structures and practices for it to happen systematically, not by exception or through adult advocacy.

Policy is an opportunity to establish and put into practice the values of our community. The topic of equity is broad and deep, and I am sure there are aspects besides what is included in the current draft equity policy that should be considered. There are plans in the works to obtain input to this important work from families where English is not the home language including translating the policy. Additionally, the Superintendent has proposed a new position in the district, Equity Administrator, to lead this work. The roles would not be a compliance officer, but someone who would work with schools on equity audits to understand the current state of student equity, as well as changing practice, understanding data, creating metrics, and training staff. Please read and share this draft Equity Policy and contact me (lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us) or email the full school committee with your thoughts. I believe that the more in our community engages in this topic, the more responsive and impactful the work our schools will be. 

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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