In their work to meet the needs of all learners, districts are striving to support their special education students in two key ways. First, they want to have strong structures in place to best support these students, from equitable diagnosis processes, to schedules that allow the students to be in core classes with heterogeneous groups, as well as receive their targeted accommodations. Second, they want to ensure that special education students are integrated members of the school community, though it can be challenging to guarantee that all students embrace the understanding that everyone has learning gifts and needs.
Many schools struggle to provide high-quality educational opportunities to their growing and diverse — in first language spoken and time spent in the US, among other factors — population of English learners. It is difficult to fully integrate students’ English language development with their learning of subject matter concepts and over time, students miss out on the core curriculum, widening achievement gaps between English learners and native English speakers. Many schools also grapple with the consequences of re-designating English learners as Fluent English Proficient, as re-designation can mean that students lose access to critical services that support their integration into mainstream classrooms. While some schools are pioneering bilingual education programs, finding qualified educators and suitable materials for these classrooms remain challenges.
As student populations become increasingly diverse, schools and districts aspire to meet the needs of learners from numerous racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Black and Latinx students, and students experiencing poverty, often have achievement scores, attendance rates, and graduation rates well below other students. Schools must identify which social services are within their scope of work, and provide referrals for those services that aren’t; this role requires that schools establish cohesive relationships with other agencies serving their students. Finally, districts serving students from ethnic minorities and low-income communities often struggle to find evidence of impactful innovative programming in schools with similar demographics, in part because research in this area is deficient.
A significant challenge districts face is addressing opportunity gaps that leave underrepresented students behind, from access to Pre-K programs to summer learning opportunities. Many district leaders also identify opportunity gaps when looking at the demographics of students enrolled in rigorous, AP, or IB courses, as well as core courses like math and science. Technology serves as another difficult topic. Within some schools and districts there are gaps in access to technology tools and connectivity at home as well as at school. And while many schools strive to use technology to spur deeper learning, schools with large low-income populations sometimes struggle to use technology in creative ways in part because they struggle with traditional accountability measures. Schools are also beginning to identify more nuanced opportunity gaps, such as networking for college and jobs, and how groups of students opt in or out of school activities.
Implementing programs and practices that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across schools and districts Districts are committed to providing an equitable education for all of the students they serve, including those living in poverty, students of color, English learners, and special education students. But huge gaps persist related to opportunities for core learning, enrichment, and technology access. It can be challenging for districts to serve all of these groups and to provide specialized programs and services. Explore the challenges related to Equity