Accelerating Learning to Promote Equity: Challenges and Strategies in the Midst of a Pandemic

Combating Systemic Barriers to Equitable Learning

**Waite, C. & Arnett, T. (2020, Fall). Will schools change forever? Predicting how two pandemics could catalyze lasting innovation in public schools. Christensen Institute. Available at

This paper considers two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic racism – that have recently shaken K-12 schools; it then proffers an answer to the question, “What makes for lasting change beyond these two crises?”  For change to gain traction, the authors suggest that four dynamics affect an organization’s capabilities and priorities:  1) new processes change school capabilities more than new resources do; 2) new processes stick around when they outperform old ones; 3) when innovations or new revenue formulas take root, the development of new resources and processes follow; and 4) change efforts must be stronger than the inertia of existing organizational models. The authors use an historical review of Sputnik to demonstrate how momentum for math and science education led to lasting changes in our K-12 schools. Additionally, the authors provide insights into how the interdependence of value propositions, school resources, processes, and revenue formulas can lead to institutional transformation and restructuring past emergency COVID-19 modifications.  Finally, they make recommendations for state leaders, policymakers, funders, and school system leaders to build lasting innovation. 

Adelman, H., & Taylor, L. (2020, November). Restructuring California schools to address barriers to learning and teaching in the COVID-19 context and beyond. Policy Analysis for California. Available at

This brief outlines ways to address external and internal barriers to supporting the whole child that will continue beyond COVID-19 in California schools.  The authors argue that current disjointed approaches perpetuate structural and systemic barriers, but systems like Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) break down traditional silos.  They further propose a continuum of interventions that go beyond MTSS, weaving together school and community resources for a more streamlined and equitable delivery of services.  The authors categorize district programs and community support provided inside and outside of classroom into six domains – 1) embedding student and learning supports into regular classroom strategies; 2) supporting students’ transitions to new grades, schools, and/or learning environments;  3) increasing home and school connections; 4) responding to and preventing school and personal crises; 5) increasing community involvement and collaboration; and 6) facilitating student and family access to special assistance – to create an intervention framework. They reiterate the urgency of change, stating that the COVID-19 pandemic and heighted attention to racial injustice require a transformative and comprehensive approach from all stakeholders to address students social, emotional, and academic needs.

Olson, L. (2021, February). Teaching innovation: New school staffing strategies inspired by the pandemic. FutureEd. Available at

This report profiles mostly nontraditional school systems (e.g., charters, expanded learning partnerships) that developed new staffing arrangements and structures to adapt to the COVID-19 learning context. The report is organized by four different types of changes: (1) expanding the role of high-quality teachers so that they reach more students, (2) developing opportunities for newer teachers to learn from veteran teachers, (3) restructuring the traditional school day or schedule, and (4) modifying the school calendar. For each innovation, the authors provide examples of how school systems implemented each change and teachers’ perspectives on how successful the change has been. The authors conclude by acknowledging there are significant, systemic challenges to making these kinds of reforms. They share recent examples of how district-union tensions and funding structures have prevented innovations, call on leaders to give teachers flexibility to support students in more ways than traditional classroom instruction, and ask readers to reconsider our typical notions of what school looks like.

Feldman, J. (2019). Grading for equity (pp. xiv–15). Corwin. Available at [Email required]

Joe Feldman’s book explores why traditional grading practices are difficult to change and what practical solutions educators should use to create more equitable learning environments. In the prologue, Feldman uses both fictional and nonfictional examples to outline the main points of his book and demonstrate some of the most common challenges related to grading. In Chapter 1, Feldman suggests several reasons why grading practices are hard to change. For example, grades are often the one thing teachers have autonomy and control over in school systems and in a society at-large that regularly undervalues, complicates, and delegitimizes their work. Additionally, explicit conversation about grading tends to unearth deeply held beliefs about young people and how learning works. Teachers often feel a strong sense of identity and responsibility over their grades, and notions that their practices or beliefs are complicit in perpetuating unfair systems can be interpreted as personal attacks. Feldman concludes with describing how his book is organized and should be used.

**This document is considered a priority pre-reading.