Promising Practices in Deeper Learning and Equity

The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.–Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, human rights advocate and is a leader in the movement towards equity and justice. 
Consider the following statistics:

  • Childhood poverty rates have risen 40 percent for black children since 2000
  • Black students who graduate from high school still face challenging job prospects
  • More than one out of every five school-age children in the United States lived below the federal poverty line in 2013
  • From 2000 to 2013, childhood poverty rose 39 percent for African Americans, compared to 13 percent for Asians and whites
  • For the first time in 50 years, a majority of American public school students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch program

We have work to do in education. Education offers a solution and a path to increased opportunity for all young people. Education has been called the “civil rights issue of our time.”
There are initiatives in the United States to reduce achievement gaps and increase access to high quality education for all students. At this year’s Deeper Learning conference, conversations –and the real work–are about equity. The conference brings together over 900 educators from across the country and around the world that are working to create deeper learning outcomes for all kids. The 6 components of Deeper Learning are: mastery of academic content, collaboration, critical thinking, learning how to learn, strong communication skills and academic mindsets.
Deeper Learning is working. Consider this from a recent article by Education Week: “Students who attend schools in networks that focus on ‘deeper learning’ graduate in four years at rates that are about 8 percentage points higher than those of their peers, according to a recent study released by the American Institutes for Research.”

6 Promising Practices in the Equity Movement

Cultivate equity leaders with a strong sense of purpose.

Deeper Learning Equity Fellows led by Big Picture Learning and Internationals Network for Public Schools, and Deeper Learning Leadership Forum led by Envision Education are doing this work. These programs include leaders from across the U.S. education system who are doing the change work to promote equity. Change work happens in deep collaboration with students, families and educators, and takes place in communities across the country. Cultivating equity leaders and making the work about equity are of the utmost importance. As Jennifer Morrison of High Tech High Graduate School of Education said the connection between deeper learning and equity is about purpose and meaning.

Bring authentic selves and real world learning to the work.

Michael Golden from Educurious said, “Engaging students by encouraging them to bring their identities and interests into the classroom and pursuing authentic challenges will lead to deeper learning for all…Start the conversation. Tackle a short term project to an issue in your school or community. Engage student voices. Build trust and community so everyone feels safe to take on this vitally important work.” Sarah Bertucci of Eagle Rock Professional Development Center said, “Traditionally marginalized youth are often stuck in ‘drill and kill’ classrooms where they are expected to be receptacles of information rather than creators of new ideas that address real problems in their communities and lives — deeper learning with an equity lens is transformative for individuals and communities.”

Consider goal-driven and equitable pedagogy.

Tim Kelly from City Arts and Technology High School said, “If you have a dream, a goal, then you begin. Do not wait for the right moment, for the right credentials, the right connection. Begin the work now, build it as you work.” Symon Haynes from Envision Education said, “Deeper learning is a process that provides all students access to reaching their full potential and and opportunity to exercise choice in pursuing their goals.” In a deep dive conversation about equitable pedagogy, Bob Lenz from Buck Institute for Education spoke about project-based learning as an engagement and equity lever for all students. Tim Presiado of New Tech Network spoke about the connection between the deeper learning movement and the work of other learning initiatives including organizations focused on equity and personalized learning, such as iNACOL.

Create discourse and conversation around justice and injustice.

Executive director of High School for the Recording Arts Tony Simmons gave a powerful keynote address at this year’s Deeper Learning Conference. Included in his speech was a discussion about the impact that racism has on students. We encourage you all to watch this video of High School of the Recording Arts graduate Chris Lollie, who is seen having the presence of mind to video an injustice he experienced. Disclaimer/note: This is a powerful video. It is an understatement to say there is continued work to be done. The work to promote equity is happening and will continue to happen in our families, our schools and our communities. Join us. (Note: This may be tough to watch if you have kids, love kids, teach kids or are a human).

Reflect on your own background and experiences.

Tony Simmons said, “It’s not only about what I expect from my students. What do I expect from myself?” With that, he asked the audience at this year’s Deeper Learning conference:

  • How do you engage students in deeper learning experiences?
  • How do you create and advance equitable learning environments?
  • How do you cultivate leaders who facilitate deeper learning in schools?
  • How do you spread deeper learning to all schools?

Focus on equitable practices that support English Language Learners.

Internationals Network for Public Schools and EL Education are bright spots in the movement to support a growing number of English Language Learners–currently 10% of student population and increasing. To learn more about our project to Support ELLs and to contribute, see this post.
We want to hear from you. Share your own experiences by answering two short questions to this form–open to anyone–and join in the conversation happening at #deeperlearning. We ask this question knowing that it takes us all: What will create equitable access to deeper learning outcomes for all students?
For more, see:


Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is a student advocate and former teacher.

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