Why do we exist?
In 2014, a majority of students entering U.S. public schools came from minority groups – a monumental first in U.S. history. Unfortunately, students from historically marginalized racial backgrounds often experience little academic success as compared to their white peers.
As our student population grows more diverse, teachers must be prepared to work with students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Failing to adequately prepare educators to teach a racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse student body may lead to serious social and economic ramifications.
For many years, significant gaps in academic achievement have existed between white students and students of color. In the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress 4th Grade Reading Level Assessment, nearly half of all white students scored at or above grade level in literacy while less than a quarter of black and Latino students tested proficient. In addition to this, according to the United States Department of Education, students of color typically experience chronic absenteeism at higher rates than white students.
We exist to help schools, organizations, and communities improve the educational outcomes of students, eliminate racial gaps in academic achievement, and foster a positive self-image for students from historically marginalized communities.
We envision an educational system that recognizes identity and human connection as central to the process of teaching and learning and ensures young people have access to educational experiences that allow them to build the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the world.
[This space] reaffirms some of the thoughts I encounter in my daily work and reinforces lots of my ideas. It also gives me space for reflection on the things I do not do well and offers me tangible alternatives as a means of improving my practices!
How did we start?
In spring 2016, Karla and Carlon met to discuss common challenges they were experiencing as classroom-based educators within their school district. They both found they had challenges with advocating for culturally responsive pedagogy that transcended rote memorization.
Given their identities from historically underrepresented communities and experiences with traditional schooling, they deeply believed education needed to be more than test results, especially considering the underachievement of students of color and the immense opportunity gaps present in school communities composed mostly of students of color. In addition to this, they noticed they made up a very small minority of the educator population in their schools despite sharing a large portion of their students’ backgrounds and identities.
Karla and Carlon ultimately left the classroom to explore innovative ways to both improve the pedagogical approach of educators and to support efforts to diversify the teacher workforce.
Equity Institute was founded in 2019 and builds on the success of their EduLeaders of Color meetups and advocacy, which they began hosting in 2016. As the EduLeaders of Color network grew, schools and organizations started reaching out to Karla and Carlon for thoughts, ideas, and practical approaches to building more equitable and inclusive school and community environments.
Karla started leading small workshops with a close colleague, Emily Abedon, while Carlon focused on policy research. Their work was well-received across a variety of organizations and within local and state governments.
Eventually, Karla was invited to present their work at a meeting of Rhode Island school superintendents. After the presentation, several superintendents expressed appreciation for the information and a strong interest in having us develop learning experiences for their teachers.
Inspired by the reception, Equity Institute was launched to help schools and organizations become more culturally responsive and inclusive while addressing the question of how to build equity in schools and communities.
What is equity?
Educational Equity is the intentional development and alignment of policies and practices to promote psychological safety and physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being. Advancing Educational Equity ensures every learner has access to resources and opportunities that are both aligned with their needs and support their academic and social-emotional success.
Efforts to pursue educational equity may include strategies such as developing fair funding policies, modifying or eliminating biased academic standards, or providing additional academic and social-emotional supports. Interventions may even fall outside of the traditional boundaries of our education systems, such as promoting housing security, improving food access, and addressing poverty through economic policy. Educational Equity requires solutions that are designed specifically to reflect individual and community needs, and therefore, no singular strategy or approach exists. We believe, however, the following are key for promoting Educational Equity:
- Cultural diversity is a major component of our society and should be viewed as a critical asset in our way of being rather than as an afterthought.
- Complex systems, such as education systems, are made up of relatively simple interactions. Relatedly, our dominating mindsets and beliefs, whether conscious or subconscious, drive how we operate in them.
- Criteria for success when advancing Educational Equity must be based on the quality of individual and community life as opposed to standardized test scores.
- Decision-making processes ensure students maintain a voice in the creation of policies and programs intended to serve them. Additionally, students and their parents and families possess appropriate mechanisms to hold education agencies accountable.
- Systemic oppression and marginalization, such as structural and institutional racism, have a real, material impact on individuals and communities. Effective interventions designed to promote Educational Equity recognize how these forces affect people’s lived experiences and their engagement with the education system.
What have we accomplished so far?
Over the past three years, Equity Institute has engaged nearly 1,500 students, parents, educators, and community members through our monthly EduLeaders of Color meetups, facilitated learning experiences, and biannual policy forums.
Additionally, we’ve facilitated a variety of learning experiences with schools and community members. We’ve partnered with school districts including, but not limited to Burrillville School District; Central Falls School District; Cranston Public Schools; East Providence School District; North Providence School Department; and Providence Public Schools to deliver unique learning sessions where participants discuss issues related to equity, race, and identity in education. We’ve also presented at numerous conferences and gatherings including the South by Southwest (SXSW) EDU Conference & Festival; iNACOL Symposium; and Big Picture Learning’s Big Bang.
Who’s on your squad?
Karla leads the organization as the Chief Executive Officer, and Carlon oversees strategic and operational planning as Chief Impact Officer.
We also have a small team of movers and shakers that’s constantly growing. Read more about the team on our here.
What’s your plan for the future?
Over the next few years, we’re looking triple the number of educators and leaders served through our programs and services. We’d like to establish Equity Institute as a top resource for understanding education equity and how we can pursue it.
We’re particularly focused on analyzing, developing, and refining our facilitated learning experiences; building a robust online platform that produces well-researched, informative, and easy-to-understand information about educational equity; and launching, prototyping, and continually improving our EduLead Fellowship.
Equity Institute Learning Labs should be required training for teachers, teacher leaders, and curriculum decision-makers.
Learning Lab Participant
How are you funded?
Equity Institute is a nonprofit that is funded through earned revenue and generous support from foundations and individual donors.
Principles are what we stand for in life: These do not change. When or if we lose our way or are faced with hard decisions, we draw on our principles to help guide our decision-making process.
- Think outside the box.
- Practice antiracism in all of our work.
- Use emergent strategy as an approach to solve problems and build trusting relationships.
- Practice transformative leadership.
- Use people-centered approaches to identify and solve problems.
- Be nimble and flexible in our approach to racial justice work to respond in real-time to the most critical problems.
- Teachers and educators have power and must be supported and trained in how to translate that power into action for a just society.
How can you partner with us?
- Join our EduLeaders of Color network to discover opportunities to connect and build with equity-minded folx.
- Subscribe to our Equity Institute newsletter for regular updates on what’s happening across our work and insightful resources.
- Contact us about leading a learning and development project with your school or organization.
Read and listen to our got equity? blog for thoughts, ideas, and practical advice on building equity in your school and community.