Equity By Design: Five Principles

It’s no secret that the history of education is marked by policies and practices that have caused and contributed to disparities in success for students of color. That history still impacts students today, but that impact is less obvious, but no less real, than policies such as “separate but equal” educational segregation laws. Educational reform must acknowledge and foreground the policies and practices contributing to disparities in educational achievement, and abstains from blaming students for those accumulated disparities. That idea is the core of the Center for Urban Education’s Equity Scorecard Process, which is a way of creating and sustaining change by engaging practitioners in equity-focused inquiry and using tools designed improve student success rates for traditionally underrepresented groups.

The Center for Urban Education is a national leader in high education equity, and specializes in real, actionable tools and practices that embed a process for change, creating sustainable and long-lasting impact. In January 2015 researchers from CUE wrote America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Educationin which they outlined five principles for achieving equity by design. A follow up piece Five Principles for Enacting Equity by Design, was published in early 2015. The article discusses each of the five principles, and gives examples from CUE’s work with over 100 institutions of higher education.

Five Principles for Exacting Equity by Design

Principle 1: Clarity in language, goals, and measures is vital to effective equitable practices.

Clarity in language. Inequality in higher education is a structural problem that is hidden or revealed through the use of language imbued with political and social meaning.

Clarity in goals and measures. Quantitative data are typically not available in user-friendly formats, and individuals who do not routinely work with data may struggle to use them.

Principle 2: “Equity-mindedness” should be the guiding paradigm for language and action.

Equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education and the impact of power asymmetries on opportunities and outcomes, particularly for African Americans and Latinas/os.

Principle 3: Equitable practice and policies are designed to accommodate differences in the contexts of students’ learning—not to treat all students the same.

Simply put, achieving equality in outcomes does not mean—in fact cannot mean—treating all students as though they are the same.

Principle 4: Enacting equity requires a continual process of learning, disaggregating data, and questioning assumptions about relevance and effectiveness.

While disaggregated data are necessary to identify and prioritize problems, disaggregated data alone are insufficient to attain equity-focused change. What matters is how practitionersinterpret the data. Do they interpret racialized inequities as a symptom of student deficiencies or as an indication of failed practices? The interpretive lenses through which practitioners make sense of data are far more consequential than the collection of the data itself.

Principle 5: Equity must be enacted as a pervasive institution- and system-wide principle.

Embedding equity into the core of institutional work means reframing inequity as a problem created by color-blind practices and procedures and the lack of spaces to talk about race.