Equity Literacy:

Definition and Abilities

 

Equity literacy is a comprehensive approach for creating and sustaining equitable schools. The foundations of equity literacy are (1) a commitment to deepening individual and institutional understandings of how equity and inequity operate in organizations and societies, and (2) the individual and institutional knowledge, skills, and will to vigilantly identify inequities, eliminate inequities, and actively cultivating equity. At the individual level, when we embrace equity literacy we learn to become a threat to the existence of inequity and an active cultivator of equity in our spheres of influence. 

 

More than cultural competence or diversity awareness, equity literacy prepares us to recognize even the subtlest forms of bias, inequity, and oppression related to race, class, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, language, religion, immigration status, and other factors. Through equity literacy we prepare ourselves to understand how experience disparities, not just quantitatively measured outcome disparities, affect student access to equitable educational opportunity free of bias, inequity, and discrimination. 

 

According to the equity literacy framework, equity is not merely about giving every student what they need to succeed in an individual sense. This way of imagining equity obscures our responsibility to address institutional bias and inequity. Instead, equity is a process through which we ensure that policies, practices, institutional cultures, and ideologies are actively equitable, purposefully attending to the interests of the students and families to whose interests we have attended inequitably. By recognizing and deeply understanding these sorts of disparities, we prepare ourselves to respondeffectively to inequity in the immediate term. We also strengthen our abilities to foster long-term change by redressing institutional and societal conditions that create everyday manifestations of inequity. 

 

We constructed the core of equity literacy around the following five critical abilities. We believe that professional learning related to equity, diversity, and inclusion should focus first on cultivating these abilities in all educators.

 

1. Ability to recognize even the subtlest biases, inequities, and oppressive ideologies 

 

Equity literate educators:

  • notice subtle bias in learning materials and classroom interactions;

  • are curious about ways school policies and practices disadvantage some students in unintentional (or intentional) ways; and

  • reject deficit ideology, or the view that outcome disparities (in test scores or graduation rates, for example) are caused by the cultures or mindsets of students of color, students experiencing poverty, or other students from marginalized communities.

2. Ability to respond to biases, inequities, and oppressive ideologies in the immediate term

 

Equity literate educators:

  • develop the facilitation skills and content knowledge needed to intervene effectively when biases or inequities arise in a classroom or school;

  • cultivate in students the ability to analyze bias and inequity in classroom materials, classroom interactions, and school policies and practices; and

  • foster conversations with colleagues about equity concerns in their schools.

3. Ability to redress biases, inequities, and oppressive ideologies in the long term by addressing their root causes

Equity literate educators:

  • proactively advocate against inequitable practices and policies and advocate for equitable practices and policies, rather than responding only when individual instances of bias or inequity arise;

  • recognize and address the root causes of educational outcome and experiences disparities rather than addressing only the symptoms of these disparities; and

  • understand how biases and inequities operating in classrooms, schools, and other organizations are connected to larger societal conditions.

4. Ability to actively cultivate equitable, anti-oppressive ideologies and institutional cultures

Equity literacy educators: 

  • instinctively apply an equity lens to every policy, pedagogy, practice, program, and process decision;

  • prioritize the interests and needs of the students and families whose interests and needs historically have not been prioritized; and

  • understand that equity is a baseline commitment that should inform everything, not a program, strategy, or event to layer on top of all of the other programs, strategies, or events.

5. Ability to sustain bias-free, equitable, and anti-oppressive classrooms, schools, ideologies, and institutional cultures

Equity literate educators:

  • understand that equity progress often elicits concerns and complaints from people who are accustomed to a disproportionate share of access and opportunity, and are able to recognize these concerns and complaints as an indication of progress, not as a reason to roll back progress; 

  • know how to communicate with certainty and confidence a commitment to equity even in the face of these concerns and complaints; and 

  • are cautious of the constant barrage of popular programs and strategies that often pose as “equity” but have little to do with equity and stay committed to embracing a long-term transformative approach based on evidence for what makes an institution like theirs more equitable and just.

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©2020 Equity Literacy Institute, an EdChange initiative