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This article was published 27/10/2021 (212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A community vision of what authentic education modernization could look like involves the role of an education equity office at the school district level and an education equity secretariat within the provincial government.
In order to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous, refugee, immigrant and racialized students in our community, they need to see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and staff working at all levels in the public school system.
According to the recently released State of Equity in Education reports by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle and Newcomers Education Coalition, only one of the six school divisions in Winnipeg has an employment equity policy and program. The reports also indicate there needs to be 600 more Indigenous teachers hired in Winnipeg schools for the teaching staff to reflect the Indigenous student populations being served by these school districts.
A modern public school system should have an explicit equity focus to impact policy, administrative action, de-colonization and anti-racism instructional practice, workforce representation and professional development to support high achievement for all students.
Other jurisdictions understand the critical role of equity-based education to address systemic racism in the public school system. In June 2020, the Ontario provincial government took over running the Peel District School Board (PDSB), the second largest school division in the country, in response to the school board’s inability to address issues of systemic racism identified in an external provincial review of the school district.
The review highlighted the essential role of employment equity policy and programs. The report stated "a detailed Employment Systems Review (ESR) is an irreplaceable best practice used to ferret out barriers to equity in workplace cultures, policies, procedures, and practices. Indeed, without a thorough ESR, it is difficult to understand how the Board of Trustees can properly establish accountabilities, goals and timetables necessary to conduct fair and transparent equity hiring."
One of the important recommendations of the Ontario government’s external review of the PDSB was the need for a "robust education equity office" at the school district level.
One of the key elements of an education equity office is that it be managed by a senior leadership position, such as a superintendent of education equity or chief equity officer. It would also have community-outreach staff to liaise with parents and community partners, and would provide leadership to establish an anti-racism policy in consultation with the community.
An education equity office would develop an annual equity action plan to address systemic inequities experienced by students and staff. It would create and implement a professional learning plan for staff on issues such as de-colonization, anti-racism, anti-oppression, reconciliation, restorative practices and the implementation of equity-based curriculum.
A regular self-identification census of students and staff would be done to develop an equity-based demographic profile of the school district, along with publishing an annual equity accountability report card.
Employment equity policy and programs would be monitored by the education equity office, with a focus on the compilation of employee self-identification data, setting targets for each employee group, reporting on advancement and retention of employees, and identifying systemic barriers in policies, procedures and practice.
Collecting data for evidenced-based decision-making would be an important responsibility of the education equity office, including student data disaggregated by gender, grade, Indigeneity, race, sexual identity and disability regarding graduation rates, absenteeism, suspensions, credit accumulation, representation in applied and academic courses, and special education.
Comprehensive equity audits of schools would also be a role for an education equity office, involving the naming of schools, mascots and learning materials used in libraries and classrooms.
A new organizational structure such as an education equity office at the school district level and an education equity secretariat within the provincial government can play a critical leadership role to support the academic success of all students, especially Indigenous, refugee, immigrant and racialized students. They can promote the development of capacity within the public school system to use equity data and measurements to enhance accountability and to drive equity initiatives for students, parents, and employees.
This is what authentic education modernization in action looks like. If the local school boards and provincial government are committed to modernizing our public school system, they should ensure an education equity office and education equity secretariat play an integral role in this process.
Crystal Laborero and Suni Matthews are co-chairs of Equity Matters.