3 Coins in the Fountain for Instructional Equity By Jon Saphier

There are many approaches to restoring to children of color the respect that have been denied them…opportunities for a fair chance at a good life in a school designed for equity. 

We can't do all of these approaches at once, but we have to start somewhere. Where are we going to start ...and then what are we going to do next? If we only do one, it will be a strong positive step forward, but by itself it won't make enough difference. There are three main approaches described below.  Can we do all three at once? I think, yes, but we have to show our colleagues how we are acting coherently, not scattershot. 

All the actions below are part of the comprehensive package to accelerate learning and collapse the opportunity and achievement gap. All embody racial justice and a commitment to equity. Separate providers can help us with each, but there is no one-stop shopping.  We have to be judicious consumers and make a long-term plan. We need them all, so there’s no quick fix. 


Not three separate initiatives, but a through line of three interwoven strands that make school an engine for equity. 

The rationale
All the actions above fit into three categories that need one another:

  1. Anti-racism and Cultural proficiency
  2. High Expectations Teaching including bringing the growth mindset to life in every day teacher behavior in classrooms
  3. Rigor and its brother, authentic tasks

Proposition 1: Anti-racism and Cultural proficiency alone are not enough
If all we do is to work with staff members on cultural proficiency, even if effectively,  but the students are too discouraged and think they are too limited  to learn, not much will happen. 

Proposition 2: High Expectations Teaching alone is not enough
If we convince discouraged students they are capable, give them tools to increase their “ability”, and make school an environment that is validating of their families and their culture, but the teaching expertise is lacking, not much will happen. 

Proposition 3: Rigor and authentic tasks alone are not enough
If the students get expert teaching and encouragement takes place in a culturally inclusive environment, but the work is too easy, not challenging, and not up to rigorous standards, not enough will happen either. We need all three. 

To expand:

Culturally Proficiency and Anti-Racist Teaching:
If all we do is show educators, with a particular focus on white educators, how to be culturally proficient and anti-racist in their teaching it will be a big step forward. We will eliminate a critical  obstacle to why students of color experience disrespect and may not feel included or visible in school. But it won’t make enough difference for students who believe they are too limited  to learn, and that if they did learn, it wouldn’t make much difference in their lives. 

High-Expectations Teaching
If we get students to believe in themselves and that they can grow their ability, even if behind academically, and furthermore give them hope for a better life through education – combine that with a culturally relevant environment, it still wouldn‘t be enough if they experience mediocre teaching. 

If we teach students to believe in their capacity and give them expert instruction [e.g., personalized learning, student agency, use of validated cognitive science, personal relationship building, inclusive classroom climate, …all that is known about high impact pedagogy], it still won’t make enough difference if the work we give them is not rigorous and skillfully scaffolded [aligned with high standards and meaningful to the students, now called alternately Deep Learning or Authentic Learning].

We need to do all three, not just one and not just two. Start anywhere we want, but get to all three in our long-term planning, and we will collapse the gap. 


Learn more about our High-Expectations Teaching Course here.



Jon Saphier is the CEO and Founder of RBT.
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