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Elementary Schools for Equity: Policies and Practices That Help Close the Opportunity Gap

By Laura Wentworth Julie Kessler Linda Darling-Hammond

In 2008, the San Francisco Unified School District invited a team of researchers to study schools within the city, including elementary schools that were achieving strong educational outcomes with students of color from low-income backgrounds. This study sought to identify schools in San Francisco that could be used as models for district and school leaders in achieving the district’s three goals: access and equity, achievement, and accountability. The work also drew from a report titled High Schools for Equity, authored in 2007 by the School Redesign Network in partnership with Justice Matters.

The authors found many highly effective schools that supported these goals and selected four to study in depth. Subsequent research, conducted throughout the 2008–09 school year, was guided by the following questions:

  • What practices, structures, and policies allow these schools to increase “academic productivity” and close achievement gaps?
  • What replicable characteristics do these schools share that could be used to promote a more equitable education in other schools?

Researchers found that while each school had unique features, each had the following characteristics in common:

  • Each school was led by a dedicated principal who supported teacher recruitment and development, thus ensuring the school had a solid foundation to provide challenging learning experiences for students based on their individual strengths and needs.
  • Each school made the most of scarce resources, ensuring that all resources (people, time, materials, and funding) were aligned with the district’s goals.
  • Each school was marked by a high degree of relational trust among all members of the school community.

The report's findings have implications for improving the educational experiences of students not only in San Francisco but also in California and beyond. Elementary Schools for Equity illustrates that creating a system that supports the learning of all students requires clarity of vision and purposeful, consistent action to create a web of systemic supportive elements that are mutually reinforcing. This report describes how these kinds of school designs can become the norm rather than the exception.


Posted with permission, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.