top button

What Does Your School Schedule Say About Equity? More Than You Think.

+1 vote

In Fall 2017, when Hoover High School in San Diego’s Unified School District began building the next year’s master schedule, school leaders discovered something concerning. Some of the students who needed extra support—English learners, special-education students, and others in need of academic interventions—were more likely to be scheduled in larger classes with less experienced teachers. They were also significantly underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses, and were often separated from other students throughout the day because of how their intervention blocks were scheduled.

This problem is not unique to Hoover. A growing body of research shows that outcomes for students diverge not just within districts, but within individual classrooms and schools. Improvements to pedagogical practices are critical, but insufficient, when students have unequal access to rigorous coursesacademic programs, and experienced teachers.

To systematically address these inequities, decision-makers must understand the processes that create them. Increased funding alone will not address endemic achievement gaps, because equity is more than just a fiscal or pedagogical challenge; it is also an operational one.

A school’s schedule determines how its core resources—time, personnel, even physical spaces—are allocated throughout the day. It dictates fundamental elements of the student experience: the teachers and peers they interact with throughout the day, the size and composition of their classes, their access to additional supports and services, and whether or not they take courses and electives aligned with their interests, graduation or college entry requirements.

Operational decisions also shape the course load for teachers, and whether they have scheduled time for collaboration, planning and professional support to deliver high-quality instruction for their students. These formative decisions are made by guidance counselors, assistant principals, principals, and superintendents before students ever enter the classroom.

Designing the student experience is no easy task. Schools are incredibly complex organizations, and only grow more complicated as they adapt to shifting demographics and expectations. The complexity of allocating scarce resources within schools is compounded by a maze of local, state, and federal requirements. The “alphabet soup” of programs, services, and strategies—CTE, IEPs, IB, ELL, GT, PBL—reflects a gradual shift toward a more personalized approach.

Against that backdrop, a school leader’s ability to make equity-informed decisions has, historically, presented a Rubik’s Cube-like challenge. School leaders are almost always aware that scheduling practices can have unintended consequences on equity, and student outcomes. But most haven’t had the tools to map assumptions to data and operationalize necessary changes. In many schools, these important decisions are still made using magnet boards and other processes with limited capacity.

The proliferation of student information and learning management systems means that the data that districts need to understand, and perhaps re-think, the allocation of resources is no longer trapped in file cabinets and magnet boards. Evaluating the implications of schedule or operational changes—and making the changes themselves—has gone from aspirational to feasible. With the right tools and data, districts can rethink school operations from a data-informed, equity-focused lens.

This was the case at Hoover, where Diane works as vice principal. She and her staff came together and decided the scheduling process had to change. Examining the data together, teachers became aware of the unintentional consequences of the previous schedules and why changes were being made.

Hoover pursued a data-driven approach that allowed for more balanced class sizes and ensured newer teachers were not overloaded with large classes of high-need students. Rosters became more diverse. Students with special needs and English language learners now learn alongside students in gifted programs who would traditionally be separated during the day. Importantly, the schedule guaranteed common preparation and planning time so teachers can meet and discuss the best ways to support all pupils.

Changes did not happen overnight. Hoover involved the school’s academy directors, teachers, and families in a robust process of schedule redesign—and recognized that real transformation requires a mindset and culture shift.

Implicit bias training and cultural awareness training helped equip staff to consistently hold high expectations for all students, and to shift any discourse from placing blame for poor outcomes to instead committing to improving those outcomes. Students and families were included in events to learn about the new academic programs, and they participated in a process of structured choice for new courses and electives to boost both rigor and engagement.

It’s time to embrace not only the potential, but the essential role of operations in furthering the pursuit of educational equity. When overlooked or underestimated, school-level processes can inhibit access to rigorous, high-quality teaching and learning. But when harnessed correctly with equity at the core, school operations have the power to improve every student’s experience—and to catalyze all other efforts to enhance pedagogy, rigor, and engagement.

posted Apr 29 by Lita

  Promote This Article
Facebook Share Button Twitter Share Button Google+ Share Button LinkedIn Share Button Multiple Social Share Button

Related Articles
+3 votes


1. Alternative input devices. These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards, and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.​

2. Speech-to-text options. This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, speech-to-text provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts without typing and even navigate the Internet. speech-to-text options can also “talk back” to students and let them know about potential errors in their work.

3. LAMP. Language Acquisition through Motor Planning, or LAMP, connects neurological and motor learning in a way that makes communication easier for students with autism and related disorders. These principles have proven especially helpful for students who do not speak or have very limited verbal skills. Paired with technology, LAMP principles empower a growing student population with autism to effectively communicate and reach higher academic achievements. LAMP is present in technology – from specially made computers to learning apps.

4. Sensory enhancers. Depending on developmental patterns, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language delays may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.

5. Screen readers. This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech. It simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or visually impaired can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who otherwise struggle to glean information from a computer screen can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.

6. Mobile learning. Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of “if,” but “when, and how quickly?” Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.

7. Learning analytics. This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining. It focuses on individual students, teachers, and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics are the education industry’s response to “big data” that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics show students what they have achieved and how their achievements match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

8. Open content. The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has trickled down from college learning to K-12 education. Increasingly, K-12 educators are also coming to believe that all information on any given topic already exists. In effect, a growing number of people believe that content does not need to be re-created or purchased, and the idea has gained steam among K-12 educators specifically. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources, and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.

9. 3D printing. Also known as prototyping, 3D printing will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.

10. Outdoor/environmental learning. In short, more schools are looking for ways to get students and teachers outside. We are in an era of experiential learning, so environmental education fits the bill for many students. Lessons in this field teach children an appreciation of the earth and of its resources that the human population is quickly depleting. A better, hands-on understanding of nature also helps with science comprehension and gives students practical learning experiences.

Research has also found that teaching outside, even for short stints, improves student attitudes, attendance, and overall health. In many schools, teachers have always had the freedom to take students outside if they deemed it lesson-appropriate. Look for more official outdoor-teaching policies in the coming year, though, that encourage teachers to incorporate outdoor and environmental learning in all subjects.

As you can tell, many of these technologies have the power to change dramatically the learning experiences of students with learning disabilities, impairments, and other challenges that traditional learning methods have been less able to address. It is likely that we will see more use of these ten technologies and concepts in the next few years. In another article, I will focus on five more of these technology concepts every teacher must know.

in EdTech