Centering Equity: Actionable Next Steps

Equity is not just a buzzword, but an ongoing call to do better for the children and families we serve
Blog Post
Dec. 10, 2019

New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team is partnering with School Readiness Consulting on the blog series Centering Equity: Innovations and Local Solutions in Early Childhood Education. This blog series works to center equity in early childhood education. Through highlighting local innovation and promising practices, we aim to create space to lift up local voice and efforts as integral to advancing early childhood equity from community to larger systems-level change.

We’ve come to the end of our series. Over the last five posts, we dove into areas that emerged across School Readiness Consulting’s experiences in addressing equity alongside our partners, teachings from well-renowned social justice leaders, and conversations with innovators within the early childhood field. Topics have included the importance of local progress, leadership, teaching and learning, research, and family engagement. To sum it up, I believe the insightful words of Maya Angelou fully capture where we’ve landed—“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” While the early childhood field as a whole has clearly made progress, there is a lot more work that must be done to disrupt the systemic barriers that impede children and families of color from thriving.

As you engage with others in your network around these important issues, we hope you consider these three overarching takeaways:

#1. REPRESENTATION AND VOICE MATTER. Creating sustainable change is complex. To truly move the needle, equity must be prioritized across all levels of the early childhood system to best serve children and families. And in this process, those that have been most impacted by inequitable policies and practices must be at the center of unpacking, breaking down, and generating new solutions. In reflecting on how this could look across different roles, consider the following possibilities:

System Leaders and Policymakers are co-creating spaces in which learning, conversations and commitments around equity are set as a priority and are being upheld. There is momentum around and continued study of this important topic to uncover individual biases and examine ways in which personal experiences impact the creation of policies and programming that exist. There is an effort to take stock of who is sitting at the decision-making tables. System leaders and policymakers are challenging themselves to consider who is being engaged and what shared power looks like to ensure communities are equitably represented in making system-wide decisions that are responsive to the realities and goals of all children and families.

Program Leaders and Administrators have the power and responsibility to elevate others reflective of their surrounding communities and establish pipelines for new leadership. They are attending to equity-related issues in thinking about who they recruit, hire, mentor, and promote within their programs. While playing a dual role of both operational and instructional leaders, program leaders and administrators are setting the vision and influencing organization-wide policies and practices that impact the learning community and define program culture that prioritizes diversity.

Educators are proactively addressing equity in their design of learning environments for young children. They are thoughtfully considering the creation and implementation of early childhood curriculum and instruction, acknowledging the role of race in children’s development and authentically integrating culture and community. Educators are striving to embed the values, realities, and prevailing wisdom of families into everyday classroom experiences, as well as a nuanced perspective of child development across the many facets of human difference.

Researchers are constructing their efforts in a way that challenges the current reality that relies on results from tools developed from a mostly White dominant perspective. Through diversifying representation of researchers, coalition building, and equity-focused innovation, they are actively working against the use of assessments that serve to perpetuate racist notions of success and achievement. Researchers are championing the use of tools and approaches that are able to capture a more holistic and culturally-responsive understanding of young children’s unique strengths, abilities, and needs.

#2. TELLING THE WHOLE STORY. We must avoid the single story. When complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative, we risk feeding into stereotypes and fail to see the strength, persistence, and the Funds of Knowledge held by children, their families, and communities in which they live. When we harness the power of the whole story by honoring the intricacies of children’s identities, actively learning from families, and valuing community ties as key assets, we are able to pursue equity. Through a more comprehensive and authentic lens, we can further hold the inequities that exist within systems accountable for the outcomes that have resulted from discriminatory practices, rather than perpetuating the child- and family-blaming narratives that have undermined progress.

#3. GOING BEYOND CUT AND PASTE. When it comes to lifting up promising practices that lead to equity in early childhood education, a good place to start is with a commitment to learn from local progress. Community-defined efforts—by nature of being grounded within the local context—are key contributors in being able to respond to the racial, cultural, linguistic and other strengths of diverse children. As states continue to grapple with the most effective and authentic approaches to build on community-defined practices for more widespread impact, it will require leaders, funders, and other decision-makers to affirm that it’s not a cut and paste type of job. Efforts to recognize and scale culturally-responsive systems and programs stem from deep community engagement and learning. To put real action behind intention, it moves away from a cookie cutter approach that focuses on duplication, but instead involves understanding from communities the “big ideas” of successes and lessons learned, and lifting up the overarching concepts that have the ability to be responsively scaled in different contexts.

We stop here with our blog series. But the need for learning and work continues. Collectively as a field, we are left with the charge of striving in everyday moments to make incremental or even bold change. One thing we’ve learned for certain—equity is not just a buzzword, but an ongoing call to do better for the children and families we serve.

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