How do we support the needs of our most vulnerable learners to create equitable outcomes?


Remote and hybrid learning are exposing and exacerbating inequities in our educational system. Traditional school systems were designed to sort and segment learners, finding ways to identify who had the most academic aptitude by teaching to standards and administering tests. These systems and the structures, policies, and pedagogies that support them do not take into consideration the diverse needs of learners, and they both perpetuate and cause inequities among students. Equity, or ensuring that each learner has what they specifically need to succeed or gain access to resources and opportunities, cannot be ensured through reactive efforts. It will take proactive efforts to dismantle and rebuild systems that do not meet the needs of our learners.


Commit your LEA to an ongoing effort to improve equity by dedicating time for reflection and awareness building, leveraging data to clarify existing issues and drive the conversation, and by developing specific plans for teaching diverse learners.



1. Ask Questions

Taking the time and effort needed to stop and ask questions which can bring about the awareness needed for change. 


  • First, stop. While most people think there is an urgency to jump to action, sometimes the best thing that we can do is pause the planning process and take time to reflect. To disrupt our way of business as usual we have to first slow down. Schedule “equity pauses” to help you and your staff reflect and learn what needs addressing.
  • Remember your ideal outcomes. Research has shown that instead of just setting goals we need to be clear about our ideal state—not as a number but what it looks and feels like. Transcend’s list of equitable education’s qualities can help you imagine this 
  • Identify your questions. Brainstorm questions before seeking answers. What is it that you want to know about the piece that needs improvement? The COVID-19 Education Coalition Centering Equity working group provides some great equity pause questions, or use the questions offered from public design for equity: 
    • Awareness: What would we like to say that hasn’t been said? 
    • Inclusion: Who are we not hearing from? Why? 
    • Relationships: Is this conversation/action/project moving toward relationship?
    • Acknowledgments: Are we acknowledging the history? What and who would you like to acknowledge and celebrate?
    • Process and practice: Are we on the right track? Do we need to update our practices and processes?
    • Goals: Are we moving toward more and/or improved equity and inclusion practices?
    • Implicit biases: Where are our blind spots and biases? How are we working to understand our blind spots and biases? Who can we engage to help us see and better understand?
  • Make questions a daily habit. At every meeting, with every decision, make it part of your protocols to formally ask these questions: 
    • Who are we not hearing from? Why?
    • Who does this benefit? Who does not benefit? Are we moving toward more and/or improved equity and inclusion practices? 
    • Where are our blinds spots and biases?
    • How might/could racism show up in our structures, policies, or practices in this meeting?
  • Analyze your existing structures. Look at schedules, board policies, pedagogy, training and more to see which are expanding opportunities and which are creating barriers to entry or success for students. 
  • Keep asking. Don’t assume that your work is ever done. Needs are continually evolving, and meeting the needs of your students requires adapting and growing with them. 



Tools for Planning and Designing for Equity


Tools for Conducting Discussions about Equity


Tools for Self-Reflection about Equity

2. Use Data

LEAs have more information to guide them in their equity journey than they first imagine. Powerful insights can be gained from both academic and operational data. Taking a look at systems, policies, practices, and behaviors will help you understand where you are and where you need to grow. 

Once you identify equity gaps in the system, you can collect the data you need to allow you to reflect on the conditions that create and perpetuate them before you move forward with concrete steps for interrupting inequities. Follow these four steps for collecting and analyzing useful data.


A. Identify Needed Data
  • Set purpose and intention. Figure out what questions you are trying to answer. For example: are you trying to identify new areas of work, check on the progress of existing efforts, or find bright spots to replicate? You may use a question tool like this one to identify inequities. 
  • Identify the data you need. This can include policies in your system, academic performance, student rostering, representation on councils, and more. For example, you might ask: what data do we need to look at? Is it academic or operational data? Who decides?  
B. Collect Data
  • Get data from multiple sources, employing best practices. Remember that how data is collected determines whose voice is heard. Here is a DEI data collection guide to help, and here is a resource on empathy interviewing to gather data. 
C. Reflect on the Data
  • Decide how to organize and display the data. Organizing the data well to help illuminate issues and help the team understand disproportionate experiences and/or outcomes. 
  • Hold inclusive conversations to discuss the data. Invite new stakeholders into the data conversation. One way to do this is by organizing a Data Equity Walk. Those who haven’t previously been included in decision-making will bring new perspectives.
  • Use a protocol to help guide conversations. Conversations about data and equity issues can make people feel vulnerable. This is not a bad thing. A structured protocol helps ensure participants are treated appropriately, so consider setting norms before diving into the work. Protocols for conducting these discussions can be found here and here, and here is a worksheet participants can use to organize their thoughts.
  • Pressure-test the data. Discuss what the data’s blind spots may be and whose perspectives you are missing. Being clear about the shortcomings of existing data will help you collect better data in the future and invite contributions from stakeholders who know where to get the information you need. 
D. Move Forward
  • Include new participants in decision-making. Many equity problems arise because decision-making entities are too homogenous. To correct this, consider who else needs to be involved in decisions going forward.
  • Develop a concrete plan. Plan your next steps based on the information and feedback you have collected. This may include: 
    • Hiring practices: Reassessing how you increase the number of diverse applicants for any job. (Tune in to our podcast to learn about what Pittsburgh School District did.) 
  • Carry out an equity audit. Your LEA may also want to conduct an equity audit to ensure your plan is comprehensive and through.


Dr. Pedro Noguera talks about the equity challenges the pandemic brought forth and how to engage students moving forward.

3. Teaching Diverse Learners  

Every learner brings unique context, background, and needs to the learning environment. Historically these backgrounds have not always been recognized as assets, making young people often ashamed of their heritage language and culture. However, there is evidence that culturally relevant teaching promotes academic achievement and engagement. Altering instructional methods to promote equity can benefit students in multiple ways. 


  • Assess your program. When it comes to teaching our diverse learners it is important to ask some basic questions (such as these) to better understand where your program is meeting or missing the equity mark.
  • Create culturally sustaining instruction. Cultural sustaining teaching does not just respond to needs but encourages the continuation and revitalization of students’ cultures and backgrounds. The CDE offers these suggestions for creating culturally sustaining instruction:
    • Value community languages, practice, and ways of being. Consistently and meaningfully center students’ languages, literacies, and cultural ways of being in classroom learning instead of considering them “add-ons.”
    • Keep schools accountable to the community, with educators and schools in conversation with communities about what they desire and want to sustain through schooling.
    • Connect curriculum to cultural and linguistic histories.
    • Learning sustains cultural and linguistic practices, while providing access to the dominant culture (in the U.S., typically white, standard English speaking, and middle-class).
    • Here are just a few of the tools that can help you create culturally sustaining, sensitive, and responsive instruction:
  • Incorporate strategies to meet the needs of various learner groups. There are specific strategies that have shown to best meet the needs of particular learner groups. Below are just a few of the tools that can help you support and empower various groups in your community.


  • Specific subject area tools rooted in equity:
  • Meeting the needs of Native American students:
  • Meeting the needs of students who are Black:
  • Meeting the needs of students in foster care: and experiencing homelessness:
  • Meeting the need of low-income students:
  • Meeting the needs of LGBTQ2IA+ students:
  • Meeting the needs of migrant students:
  • Meeting the needs of students in isolated or rural areas:
  • Meeting the needs of English Learners:
  • Meeting the needs of students with disabilities:


  • What equity issues were most apparent during 2020?
  • What data do we have about equity? Based on our data, what are our equity strengths and gaps? 
  • Are we asking questions that uncover issues of access, opportunity, capacity, and outcomes? Why or why not? 
  • What existing policies, practices, and structures do we need to address?
  • What is our current level of comfort addressing equity challenges? 
  • How do we prepare our team to use best practices and meet the needs of all learners?
  • How can we make addressing equity part of our everyday practices?
The Field Guide for California LEAs
The Field Guide for accelerating learning, equity, and well being was developed by the California Collaborative for
Educational Excellence for California LEAs in collaboration with technical assistance partners.