How do we create pathways and experiences where all identities are not just represented, but deeply integrated into the core of who we are as a community? How can we create a culture of belonging? 

These are the type of questions UPD seeks to answer through our equity assessments. For districts, this means understanding the differential experiences of school community members: students, parents, instructional and non-instructional staff, facilities staff, district leaders, and many others. 

White supremacy culture often worships quantitative data with the belief that it is “objective.” And small sample sizes are often a reason districts do not conduct and share analyses across and within population sub-groups groups. Our work has demonstrated that listening to community members directly is often the most impactful and illuminating component, such as giving individuals the opportunity to name their own identities in relation to their context. 

While we are continually learning, we have honed our qualitative analysis process in our work with districts and developed several best practices to support equity assessments: 

  • Listen to stakeholders to understand the underlying causes behind inequities. Qualitative data provides an opportunity to provide rich context, nuance, and narrative behind the disparities we see. Amplifying the narratives of groups that have been othered and marginalized is a tool for creating shared power and accountability structures. 
  • Ensure equity in the full process: recruitment, engagement, analysis, and continuous feedback.  The entire process of qualitative research must be grounded in principles that center the voices of those who are most impacted by the outcomes of the design process. In addition, after the completion of engagement sessions, we understand the importance of reflexivity in our analysis as we ourselves bring our own identity intersections to the work. 
  • Provide safe spaces to have tough conversations about anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Beyond hearing from stakeholders on their experiences, we have learned that holding space for community members to feel seen is a necessary part of the change process. These conversations, of course, must be part of a non-linear and iterative process to fundamentally change structures to ensure that communities can share power and exert influence in their participation. 

Enhanced by quantitative evidence, our hope is that equity assessments help school districts continue the important work of educational justice and transformative change. And while educational justice can only happen through a simultaneous fight for justice across spheres (i.e., economic, racial, housing, environmental, disability, trans, citizenship, and disability), we know authentically understanding the narratives behind structural inequities must be the continuous point of inquiry and accountability.