High Achieving Schools Put Equity Front And Center

By Sonia Caus Gleason and Nancy Gerzon
February 2014
How does professional learning look and feel in high-poverty schools where every student makes at least one year’s worth of progress every year? How do schools and leaders put all the varied components of professional learning together so that they support all students learning every day? What professional learning grounds and sustains educators in high-achieving, high-poverty schools that personalize learning? We studied two rural and two urban schools with significant free-lunch eligible populations whose achievement data outperformed most schools and narrowed the achievement gap for multiple student groups over time. The four public schools differed from one another while sharing unique ways of linking equity and professional learning. This article conveys their common characteristics as well as specific examples from one of the study sites

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Sonia Caus Gleason and Nancy Gerzon

Sonia Caus Gleason (sonia@soniacausgleason.org) is an educational and leadership consultant. Nancy Gerzon (ngerzon@wested.org) is senior program/research associate at Learning Innovations/WestEd.

This article is adapted with permission from Growing Into Equity: Professional Learning and Personalization in High-Achieving Schools (Corwin Press, 2013) by Sonia Caus Gleason and Nancy Gerzon.

Equity Commitments

  • Our goal for students is not for them to merely be doctors, teachers, or lawyers, but rather doctors, teachers, or lawyers that change the world.
  • Students will score at least 80% on key assessments (whatever the proficiency score is), or get support until they do.
  • Every student will graduate ready for college.
  • Every student will make at least one year’s progress.
  • Every student and teacher will achieve his or her personal best.
  • We don’t just conference with the “problem” students. We conference with all students.

Developing Cultural Competence

All Schools:

  • Use shared readings as a way to build common understanding about equity.
  • Confront expressions of low expectations regarding a particular student or a group of students.
  • Differentiate learning to honor different interests, intelligences, and capacities.
  • Name and discuss specific expectations and how they will be manifested and tracked.
  • Use the data to inform what the student performance is, and use high expectations to shape instruction and support.
  • One or more schools:
  • Work collectively to understand general issues of race, class, language, culture, and privilege.
  • Explore personal bias, how it impedes student learning, school and district practices, and what to do about it.
  • Design antiracist, antibias curriculum and assessments.
  • Use instructional materials that acknowledge and incorporate student backgrounds.
  • Participate in a simulation where participants take on the role of economically poor people in different circumstances.
  • Consider different dimensions of learners by developing interest inventories, learning about multiple intelligences, or using True Colors or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
  • Learn about family strengths and contexts, their structures, values, and patterns.
  • Conduct student home visits.
  • Use student survey data to ensure students feel personally supported in their learning.




Hilliard, A. (1991). Do we have the will to educate all children? Educational Leadership, 49(1), 31-36.

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