Deeper Learning and Equity: Two New Resources

By Rafael Heller
November 6, 2015

Originally posted on Education Week’s blog on November 6, 2015 

A year and a half ago, in a post to this blog, Jal Mehta made the memorable assertion that “deeper learning has a race problem.” Judging by who attends its conferences and teaches and studies at its exemplary schools, he notes, the deeper learning movement is “much more white [and, he adds later, more secular, and progressive, and trusting of teachers] than the nation as a whole.” And as a result, it has been slow to recognize and respond to those who worry that its preferred policies and teaching methods could backfire for all but the most privileged of students.

But if deeper learning has a troubling race problem, it’s worth noting that it has an admirable equity fixation, as well. Given the amount of conversation that Mehta’s piece has provoked in the field—including posts to this blog by Gia Truong and Carlos Moreno and Andrew Frishman—it seems fair to say that nothing animates this movement more strongly than the desire to build a more just and equitable school system.

I’m confident, then, that readers of this blog will be particularly interested in two new releases from Jobs for the Future’s Deeper Learning Research Series: Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning, by Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Diane Friedlander; and The Implications of Deeper Learning for Adolescent Immigrants and English Language Learners, by Patricia Gándara.

Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning explores what it will take to ensure that all children benefit from insights gleaned from recent research into child development, motivation and engagement, metacognition, social-emotional learning, inquiry-based pedagogy, performance assessment, and more. Further, the authors argue that if schools and districts are to provide truly equitable access to the kinds of instruction and support that are known to matter for all students, then certain state and federal policy changes will be absolutely critical. They conclude with a 10-part policy agenda, focusing on strategies by which to fund new school designs and support services, build educator capacity to engage all students in deeper learning, and improve instruction and assessment.

The second paper, The Implications of Deeper Learning for Adolescent Immigrants and English Language Learners, takes a close look at the particular challenges that face the country’s large and fast-growing populations of immigrant students and English learners. Gándara explores how those young people have fared in the nation’s high schools, and she underscores why it is so difficult to glean an accurate understanding of the academic competence of ELLs through test scores alone. Further, she argues that while many policymakers and educators have viewed ELLs and immigrant students as educationally deficient, the deeper learning movement provides an important opportunity to push for wider recognition of the distinct strengths and assets—e.g., bilingualism, cross-cultural understanding, resilience, and optimism—that those students often bring with them to school. And the paper concludes by recommending a number of specific policy priorities, such as: Offering bilingual or alternative assessments for students still learning English; creating a national Seal of Bi-literacy for students who can demonstrate high levels of proficiency in two or more languages upon high school or college graduation; and providing federal support to help regions that have seen recent influxes of ELLs and do not have existing infrastructure to meet their needs.

A final note: This morning, here in Washington, DC, Jobs for the Future and the Learning Policy Institute hosted a panel discussion featuring both of these papers and focusing on ways in which the public schools can provide more equitable and empowering education for all young people. If you missed the event, no worries—a video recording of the presentations and panel discussion will be posted by the end of next week on LPI’s website.

For more papers check out the Deeper Learning Research Series

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