Deeper Learning For All: The Equity Agenda in Louisville

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR - FEBRUARY 8: Unknown children in lesson drawing in primary school by project to help deprived children in deprived areas with education, February 8, 2011 in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Jefferson County Kentucky, which includes Louisville, is by far the largest in the state. The county school district serves over 100,000 students. Former Danville superintendent Dr. Carmen Coleman (featured here) is Chief Academic Officer (CAO). Dr. John Marshall is the Chief Equity Officer. The two work together to shape powerful and equitable learning experiences for students in Louisville.

While a CAO is typical in larger districts, few districts have an equity officer. Dr. Marshall explains that the role focuses on calling out areas of inequity and working with schools and central office departments to address them. He pays attention to disproportionately whether it’s in suspension rates or access to academic programs.

Marshall sees himself as an inside agitator speaking up for those whose voices are not being heard. The role requires a balance of being unapologetically firm about the mission and collaborative in approach. (See an EdWeek EdLeader Profile on Marshall including a video.)

Dr. Marshall grew up in and taught in Jefferson County. About the time Marshall became Assistant superintendent of equity, diversity and poverty, Coleman was developing the deeper learning agenda in Danville (about a hour south of Lexington).

At the heart of the seven month old Coleman-Marshall partnership is the notion that all students deserve deeper learning–a richer set of challenging experiences that prepare young people for the innovation economy.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning competencies as mastering rigorous academic content, learning how to think critically and solve problems, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, directing one’s own learning, and developing an academic mindset — a belief in one’s ability to grow.

Project Based Learning is a productive way to develop deeper learning competencies. Carmen noted that exhibitions of learning are an important part of what the Buck Institute calls

Gold Standard Project-Based Learning. But for all students to exhibit high quality work, they need the time and support (before and during projects) to develop the skills that allow them to contribute to high quality work. Equity, as a result, demands access to high quality Project Based Learning as well as strong academic supports.

Marshall stresses that deeper learning and equity are the same hand–not an opposing left and right. Coleman added that they are trying to expose as many people as possible to great teaching that embraces deeper learning and equity.

The dynamic duo is hosting community conversations about student learning goals. They have created a series of new videos to support the process.

“We’re ready for tough conversations,” said Marshall. “People are rising to the challenge in part because they have lots of support available in the district.”

Rather than imposing a single solution, the district has been encouraging schools to generate new solutions. Jefferson County recently funded $800,000 in deeper learning proposals. Schools received up to $50,000 after presenting to an internal panel.

Listen to our podcasts with Coleman and Marshall for more on the their equity and deeper learning work in Louisville.

Key Takeaways:

[1:26] About John’s pathway to getting to JCPS, how he became Chief Equity Officer and the history behind the position.
[3:42] About the focus on Deeper Learning in Louisville.
[6:34] Why Deeper Learning and equity are central to JCPS’s equity agenda.
[8:05] The challenge of making Deeper Learning central to a high-challenge community.
[9:01] How JCPS finds the middle ground between personalized and rigorous project-based learning.
[13:01] What does a Chief Equity Officer do? John’s role at JCPS.
[15:05] How Carmen’s role at JCPS intersects with John’s.
[17:40] What tasks and challenges would John work on with a Chief Academic Officer?
[19:04] Is John a problem-finder or a problem-solver?
[20:10] What John and Carmen have learned about leadership and promoting equity and Deeper Learning simultaneously.
[22:50] How John describes his leadership approach.
[25:03] What Ms. McCormick (one of JCPS’s teachers) is doing, in relation to Deeper Learning.
[25:45] The process of funding $800,000 for digital learning proposals.
[27:32] John’s progress on reducing suspensions and removing subjective code of conduct rules.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Jefferson County Public Schools
Deeper Learning
Eastern High School
New York Performance Standards Consortium

For more see:

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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