Karen Shapiro is a 2016 MinnCAN blogging fellow. She currently serves as the technology instructor at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park in South Minneapolis, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th in California, New York, and Minnesota.

At last week’s statewide “Educational Equity in Action” convening, keynote speaker Pedro Noguera had much to say about making equity central in schools through his lens as a professor, author and commentator. My school network—Hiawatha Academies—works to disrupt systemic inequity each day, but we are truly at the start of our path. Here are some of the main lessons I took away from Dr. Noguera, whose research and advocacy have inspired me since I began teaching 16 years ago:

  1. Every decision must be made thoughtfully to advance equity. In the quest for educational equity—giving ALL students what they need to be successful, even when their needs are astoundingly varied—there is no neutral ground. When we operate in default mode, we often replicate the very social order we are trying to disrupt. We can’t remove our focus from what our current students need for even a moment. Our student recruitment efforts, curriculum choices, professional development sessions and hiring practices must all be constantly checked against this question: will what we are considering promote or hinder equity?
  2. Broad beats narrow. Noguera, whose work is grounded in a thorough study of American educational policy, lamented the narrow approach of No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top when compared with the previous, more flexible approach to education under the Johnson, Nixon and Carter administrations. He criticized the more recent approach as riddled with punishments that are disguised as choices; in his words: “choice only works when all choices are equally good.” Too often students in wealthier, whiter areas have access to equally good choices, while poorer families of color face choices that are punitive, competitive and alienating. Noguera lobbied for schools that focus on children’s mental and physical health along with academic development, view parents as partners rather than consumers and use academic data as a basis for improvement rather than punishment. 
  3. Good work IS being done. Noguera shared examples of historically underserved communities across America where equitable education is being achieved. Brockton High School in Massachusetts, Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles and the Universal Pre-K Program in Tulsa, Okla. were just three places where shared leadership, an unwavering focus on student needs and a use of data for continued improvement have brought dramatic progress toward closing the achievement gap. Noguera urged the 600 teachers, social workers, students and policymakers in the crowd to use these examples rather than our own ideologies to ground the change that drives us forward.

At Hiawatha, we work every day to make Noguera’s vision of equitable schools—and our own—a reality. Our Director of Equity Initiatives and campus equity workgroups force us to check ourselves and our actions. Our social workers provide families with wraparound services like counseling and food, through partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland and other community organizations. Teachers are responsible for designing curriculum that responds to student needs and analyzing data in a way that informs our teaching. Although we have made progress, our academic results and parent satisfaction surveys show that we have work left to do.

I would love to learn from the good work you are doing in your schools, libraries, hospitals, courtrooms and beyond; if there are any bold moves your organization has made towards equity, please share them in the comments or email me at kshapiro@hiawathaacademies.org. Stay tuned for my takeaways from the second keynote speaker, Jeff Duncan-Andrade.


Karen Shapiro cannot remember a time in her life when she was not, in some capacity, teaching. She currently serves as the technology instructor at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park in South Minneapolis, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th in California, New York, and Minnesota. She spends most of her time thinking about digital literacy, collaboration with families, racial justice, and organizational health within schools.

The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.


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