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Mobilizing Resources to Advance Excellence and Equity for All Students

We’re halfway through the ESSER timeline, which means that it’s time to get serious about resource equity. As district leaders embark upon their ESSER Halftime Reviews to figure out how to use the remaining two years of ESSER funds, it’s important to take a new look at whether the district’s resources—including ESSER funds and basic operating funds—are being allocated and used equitably. The pandemic exacerbated existing challenges with disproportionate impact on students with higher needs—and in order to ensure excellence and equity for all students in the coming years, we must rebuild with resource equity at the center of the work.

What’s “resource equity”? 

Now, we get that “equity” is a challenging and confusing word these days. It’s been used in so many contexts that it’s become one of those words that means something different to everyone.


When we talk about resource equity here at ERS, we’re talking about two things: (1) creating a foundation of excellence to ensure that all students receive the right research-backed combination of resources at the right time and (2) ensuring equitable access to those resources such that the students who need more support receive it.
 

 

By doing these two things, we can create equitable student experiences which lead to equitable student outcomes.  

And “resources” doesn’t just mean money. As the often-quoted saying goes, “Students aren’t taught by dollar bills.” How money is used to create student experiences that ensure high learning outcomes matters a lot, too. In partnership with the Education Trust and rooted in research, we’ve identified the 10 dimensions that have the greatest impact on student experiences and outcomes. The objective of our work is to ensure that all students have access to these dimensions—including highly effective and diverse teachers and school leaders; empowering, rigorous content; positive and inviting school climate, and more. (And “all means all,” to quote one of our inspiring partner districts, Montgomery County Public Schools.)

A moment for deep, sustainable change 

This shift from talking about “equity” to “resource equity” feels important in this moment. As Dr. Irvin Scott at the Harvard Graduate School of Education points out in his piece about Being an Equity Detective, equity conversations about race and identity are an important start, but they’re not enough.

To be blunt, there is a limit to how effective anti-bias training for teachers can be when students attending a higher-poverty school are 50 percent less likely to have access to an exemplary teacher than students attending a more affluent school. Or if, even after meeting entrance criteria, Black students are 25 percent less likely to be enrolled in advanced math courses in 8th grade than their white peers. (These are real numbers from two of the large urban school districts in which we worked.)  

In order to ensure excellence for all students, it’s critical that existing equity work be paired with 1) a deeper look into resource equity and 2) changes in the underlying structures, policies, and practices that create inequitable student experiences in nearly every district in this country. 

 

See more in Dr. Scott's 10 Steps to Become an Equity Detective

 

This may feel like a herculean task right now. While districts may be awash with ESSER funding, there is a very real shortage across the field—everything from qualified teachers, licensed and certified support staff, instructional time, leadership capacity and bandwidth, and more. Some might even argue that a focus on resource equity right now is misplaced. After all, if we’re facing a system-wide shortage of teachers, shouldn’t we focus on that first before we even begin to address the equitable access issue? But to quote the great Arthur Ashe, one must “start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” 

Doable starting points to advance resource equity 

While district leaders might not be able to address the staffing shortage for every single school and every single classroom in their district this fall, they can build the foundation for excellence starting with the students who were most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. For example, district leaders can prioritize filling vacancies in the highest needs schools and classrooms, supporting the many novice teachers in these schools, and finding new and creative ways to ensure that students who need the most help have support from expert teachers and additional time and tutoring.  

ESSER dollars can also be used to amp up recruitment efforts, provide stipends and revise teacher compensation structures to encourage teachers to work in the highest needs schools and reward expert teachers who support new teachers, teams of teachers and otherwise bring their expertise to the greatest challenges. 

Taking action to mobilize resources 

In partnership with Education Trust, we developed a Resource Equity toolkit for district leaders looking to mobilize resources to create equitable experiences and outcomes for students. Use these tools to start conversations, create shared understandings, and build action plans together. The work—and the positive impact—can start today. 

  • Read about the 10 dimensions of education resource equity that can unlock opportunities and make a difference for students’ learning experiences. 
  • Use our free diagnostic tools to help you assess the current state of resource equity in your district and prioritize which dimensions to tackle first.  
  • Check out our 10 resource equity guidebooks that dive into each dimension to help you explore the possible root causes of challenges in your district and choose promising actions based on students’ distinct needs. 

Every child in every community deserves a high-quality education and a fair opportunity to succeed. And with a critical eye towards inequity and proven strategies, district leaders across the country can make powerful shifts that fundamentally change the student experience for the better and help all students achieve excellence.

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