Paul C. Gorski is an associate professor of Integrative Studies in George Mason University’s New Century College, where he teaches classes on class and poverty, educational equity, animal rights, and environmental justice. He recentedly designed the new Social Justice undergraduate program and minor there as well. He has been an active consultant, presenter, and trainer for nearly twenty years, conducting workshops and providing guidance to schools and community organizations committed to equity and diversity. He created and continues to maintain the Multicultural Pavilion, an award winning Web site focused on critical multicultural education. Paul is serving his second term on the board of directors of the International Association for Intercultural Education (IAIE). He has published four books and more than 40 articles in publications such as Educational Leadership, Equity and Excellence in Education,Rethinking Schools, Teaching and Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, and Teaching Tolerance. Prior to his current position Paul taught for the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland, and Hamline University. He continues to publish and present in education-focused forums on topics including white privilege and racism, anti-poverty education and economic justice, and multicultural organizational transformation. He lives in Washington, DC, with his cats, Unity and Buster.

For years I have been dissatisfied with many popular frameworks for talking about diversity and equity in schools, nearly all of which—cultural competence, cultural proficiency, intercultural communications, multiculturalism—tend to  put culture rather than equity at the center of the conversation. Sure, every educator should learn as much as possible about the cultures of individual students. But knowing a little bit about Mexican or Mexican American culture does very little to prepare us to see and respond effectively to bias or inequity—especially to the most subtle bias and inequity.

Nowhere is the “culture” obsession more dangerous than in the ways in which teachers generally are taught to think about poverty. This is especially, devastatingly, true given the baffling popularity of the “culture of poverty” approach for understanding low-income students’ experiences. I call it baffling because the idea that we can assume anything at all about a student based on a single dimension of her or his identity or that all people in the hugely diverse population of people in poverty universally share the same beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors is nonsensical.

The excerpt below, taken from my recent book, Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap (Teachers College Press, 2013), describes what I call Equity Literacy, a framework first used by my super-genius colleague, Katy Swalwell, to describe a kind of literacy youth should learn in school. I built on her conception of Equity Literacy to include the skills and consciousness with which teachers ought to be equipped in order to create equitable learning environments for students and families in poverty.

Introducing Equity Literacy

I came to define Equity Literacy as the skills and understandings that enable us to recognize, respond to, and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers and, in doing so, sustain equitable learning environments for all students and families.

The Equity Literacy framework borrows some of its principles from other approaches for thinking about diversity in schools including resiliency theory, diversity pedagogy theory, funds of knowledge theory, and cultural proficiency. What distinguishes Equity Literacy, broadly speaking, from these and other popular frameworks is Equity Literacy’s recognition that the problem is not primarily cultural. The issue before us, as we attempt to create more effective learning environments for low-income students, is not culture, but equity. I can learn everything I want to know about this or that culture, but doing so is not going to help me spot subtle bias in learning materials or help me realize the injustice at play when schools eliminate arts and music programs, which are known to help low-income students achieve academically.

The Ten Principles of Equity Literacy

The principles of Equity Literacy are the consciousness behind the framework. Each principle is based on research about congruence between what educators believe about, and their effectiveness working with, low-income students and families. Read more

Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in New Century College, George Mason University. Gorski’s work and passion is social justice activism. His areas of scholarly focus include anti-poverty activism and education, critical race theory and anti-racism education, and critical theories pertaining to women’s rights, LGBT rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, and anti-imperialism. Gorski is an active consultant and speaker, working with community and educational organizations around the world—such as in Colombia, Australia, India, and Mexico—on equity and social justice concerns. Gorski founded EdChange, a coalition of educators and activists who develop free social justice resources for educators and activists.

In my view, the challenge of educational inequity is not, as many assume, that too few people care about creating learning environments that work for all students. The challenge, despite an overwhelming desire among most teachers and administrators to serve the needs of all students, is that we generally have very little understanding of the depth and complexity of the problem.

Consider, for example, the monster we commonly refer to as  the “achievement gap”. I use this example because a vast majority of education equity attention today is focused on this “gap” as measured in standardized test score comparisons. Over many decades, even before today’s term for it was coined, school leaders have attempted myriad strategies for redressing “achievement gaps” among and between students across race, language, class, and other identities. But we’ve made so little progress. Why?

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Forlin picChris Forlin is Professor of Special and Inclusive Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Her research and publications focus on change paradigms in special education; inclusive education policy and practice; along with curricula and pedagogy for teacher education, with innovative research in working with systems and schools to establish sustainable inclusive education. She currently advises to the Hong Kong government task force on developing a New Senior Secondary School Curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities and is a consultant to the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training on developing curricula for preparing teachers for inclusion.

When asked to blog I initially thought I would talk about teacher education for inclusion which is one of my specific areas of interest. We have been actively promoting inclusion and ‘education for all’ for nearly four decades now but has teacher education for inclusion really kept up with this change? Can we claim as teacher educators that we are meeting the needs of adequately preparing teachers for inclusion? I have taught pre-service (or pre-surface as one of my undergraduates wrote about it in her assignment – Freudian slip or a simple spelling error? – not sure which is worse!) and in-service teachers for the past 18 years so it seemed a natural topic to select. Then I read the posting on this website from May 13, 2009, when President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to the 2009 graduates of Arizona State University (You can access the full speech via http://www.niusileadscape.org/wk/). During this speech he asked the following questions:

“Did you study education? Teach in a high-need school? Give a chance to kids we can’t afford to give up on – prepare them to compete for any job anywhere in the world?”

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Whitney OakleyWhitney Oakley is the principal of Sylvan Elementary in the Alamance-Burlington School District in Snow Camp, North Carolina. She is member of the NIUSI-LeadScape community of inclusive school principals, transforming Sylvan’s practices to be equitable and inclusive of all students. Whitney’s current initiatives focus on meeting the needs of Sylvan’s changing population, with increasing numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families struggling in the current economic downturn. This blog is a direct response to Dr. Randy Bomer’s discussion of Leadership in the interest of economically disadvantaged students.

As a principal of an elementary school with steadily increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged students, I have seen a shift in focus on academic as well as systemic strategies in our approach to student success. Randy Bomer’s discussion of deficit perspective is well-taken as political issues surrounding school performance have highlighted the fact that schools are struggling to achieve adequate progress within the economically disadvantaged subgroup. In a position as a school leader, I have acknowledged perplexities surrounding students that fall within this category including, student identity, priorities, and the role of the school itself.

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Randy BomerRandy Bomer is an associate professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directs the Heart of Texas Writing Project. He has also been on the faculties of Indiana University and Queens College of the City University of New York, and he was Co-Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Randy has also worked as a literacy consultant with K-12 teachers and administrators in districts all over the United States. He is the author of Time for Meaning and For a Better World, and he holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

I’m honored to have an opportunity to participate in the discussion on NIUSI-Leadscape. I want to think with you about the most vulnerable people in our schools—children from low-income homes. Principals are aware, probably more than anyone else, that NCLB requires reporting of the progress of economically disadvantaged students. The naming of that category makes students from poor families visible and vulnerable in a whole new way. Kids were poor before, and poverty created gaps in achievement and opportunity, but now there is a newly motivated interest in “fixing” poor children, and that interest fits into longstanding American traditions, which have not served the poor well. One of the problems in this effort to improve people is that it positions educators toward adopting a focus on children’s deficits.

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