By Dr. Pedro A. Noguera
Often, when people think about equity, they think about allocation of resources. Why is access to deeper learning also a critical equity issue?
We’ve known for a long time, thanks to Jeannie Oakes and her work on the tracking of students, that kids who are seen as less able or “not college material” are often in classes that don’t challenge them. Because we assume that kids who are in need of remediation are not smart, these students are left doing low-level work that doesn’t tap into their higher order thinking skills.
In classrooms and schools focused on deeper learning, teachers are constantly looking for the evidence that students are learning, and students are constantly looking for their own evidence of learning.
This is a false assumption that exacerbates the equity issue because what it often means is that these students aren’t being challenged and encouraged to think deeply, and they are not developing the skills they are going to need for college and for work. This is the primary equity issue. It is as important as whether or not they are in a school with adequate resources, because if they are in a classroom where they are not really learning much, it is going to impact their education and their long-term outcomes.
How do we support schools and districts to build their capacity to support deeper learning?
In part, we have to provide very clear models. We also have to challenge beliefs, which can be a huge obstacle. It is often helpful to give examples of places where deeper learning is happening, so you can show educators that it’s not just a theory that has been hatched in the university, but it actually is working in many places. And then you have to give guidance to the educators—the teachers and the people who lead the teachers—on what kinds of learning activities elicit deeper learning. It can’t be an abstract conversation. It has to be connected to the work that schools do. In many districts, professional development is ineffective because it isn’t connected to practice.