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Designing at the Margins: How Senior School District Leaders of Color Learn to Enact Equitable Policies and Practices

  • Author(s): Bristol, Travis J.;
  • Cheung, Rebecca;
  • Wilkerson, Michelle
  • et al.
Abstract

One central theory undergirding the Equity by Design (ExD) Community of Practice (CoP) is that building the capacity of district teams, composed primarily of leaders of color, to transform organizations has the potential to create conditions for more equitable outcomes for historically marginalized students. Caroline Hill, the CoP facilitator, used the Equity Action Framework Tool (EAFT), empathy interviews, and equity walks during in-person convenings, webinars, and local collaborations to deepen participants’ learning. The CoP was comprised of district leaders of color (n = 27) from five school districts in the Midwest and East Coast, all of whom served predominantly students of color who also qualified for free or reduced lunch.

We use the EAFT, a research-based tool of individual and collective leadership dispositions and competencies, to test ExD’s theory of action. Specifically, we explored three research questions:

Research Question 1: How do school district leaders of color participating in the ExD CoP learn to design and implement equitable policies and practices aimed at closing persistent opportunity gaps?

Research Question 2: To what degree do school district leaders of color change policies and practices aimed at closing persistent opportunity gaps after participating in a CoP?

Research Question 3: To what degree do school district leaders of color describe changes in their policies and practices aimed at closing persistent opportunity gaps after participating in a CoP?

First, we found that CoP members learned to design and implement equitable policies and practices aimed at closing opportunity gaps through the use of (a) skillful facilitation, (b) learning about the past to design for the future, and (c) core characteristics of the CoP.

Second, after analyzing pre-, mid- and post-survey responses, we found that participants reported that their greatest learning was in the areas of (a) being able to assess the will, skill, knowledge, and capacity of the organization to disrupt inequitable policies and practices; and (b) developing a theory of change to disrupt inequitable policies and practices based on an analysis of data.

Third, we found that school closure and reopening plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic created a unique opportunity to understand how school systems were applying their learning from the CoP to design policies and practices aimed at closing persistent opportunity gaps.

We provide four important recommendations for the ExD portfolio as it continues to deepen and sustain its impact aimed at supporting school district leaders of color to design equitable policies and practices: (a) continued support for the ExD CoP beyond the initial 1-year period; (b) focus on practice in particular in the next iteration of the CoP; (c) include a 3 geographic representation of schools in future CoPs that account for both charter and traditional public schools; and (d) continue to use the EAFT in future CoPs to deepen and sustain ExD team members’ capacity to design equitable policies and practices.

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