Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are important concepts for all organizations and workplaces to understand and incorporate into their practices. However, diversity is particularly important in K-12 education. American public schools are becoming more diverse in a multitude of ways. As the student body changes, today’s school leaders must consider equity, diversity, and inclusion as they assign students to classrooms, hire teachers, or plan the curriculum. This article will examine the importance of diversity in K-12 education.
The Importance of Diversity in K-12 Education
Diversity in the classroom has several dimensions. The most obvious consideration is who is being taught. Student diversity can take several forms. America’s public schools are becoming more racially diverse. Moreover, an increasing number of students speak languages other than English. Students also come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Moreover, some students Additionally, today’s schools have children with physical disabilities and learning differences. Competent educators must be prepared to meet the needs of all students.
While teaching students with various needs and backgrounds presents challenges, it also creates many benefits for students. Research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that racial diversity in the classroom enhanced students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills. The report also found that racial diversity was key to preparing white students for an increasingly global economy. Other forms of diversity benefit students as well. Research has found that classrooms with students of different intellectual abilities benefit all students. Moreover, classrooms with students of different economic backgrounds produce higher test scores for all students in the class. Clearly, diverse classrooms create multiple benefits for all children.
Why Inclusivity Matters in K-12 Education
While a diverse study body is a beginning, it cannot be the end. As previously written in this blog, “Diversity focuses on getting people who are different into the organization. Inclusion, by contrast, focuses on creating an environment where diverse people are accepted and appreciated.” In the K-12 context, diverse students – and their parents – must be made to feel welcomed in the classroom.
To welcome all students, inclusive classrooms must meet the needs of all students. Inclusive classrooms teach students the various ways that all Americans have contributed to this nation’s history and achievements. Inclusive teachers communicate with parents in culturally sensitive ways. Inclusive school districts go beyond legal requirements to ensure that students with learning challenges have classrooms that exceed their needs.
Inclusive schools also pay attention to who is in the front of the classroom. Research has shown that students – particularly students of color – benefit from exposure to teachers of color. So, inclusion requires school leaders to reach beyond their normal applicant pools to hire teachers that will give their students the best chance for success.
Why Education Needs Equity
In addition to diversity and inclusion, school leaders must consider equity.
As previously noted on the blog, equity means, “Making appropriate accommodations for people from underserved or historically marginalized groups to allow them full access to the rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority.” Additionally, equity requires work to eliminate barriers for diverse persons.
In the K-12 context, equity means addressing the past and present practices that create unequal outcomes for students. Historically, American students were separated by factors such as race and learning ability. While these laws are no more, today’s school districts must confront funding systems and other practices that continue to separate students based on race and class. To achieve equity, school leaders must consider how they can remove barriers to student achievement.
Here is an example of equity in action. As mentioned, American schools have an increasing number of ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Thus, the schools are diverse. Some schools have adopted inclusion efforts that train teachers and administrators to communicate with these students and their families. However, ESL students are far less likely to graduate than native English speakers. So, we see that even if diversity and inclusion are present, without an equity mindset, true progress cannot be made.
Education equips each person to participate in the global workforce. School districts that ignore equity, diversity, and inclusion fail to prepare their students for the world that awaits them. Given the importance of diversity in K-12 education, equity, diversity, and inclusion should be primary considerations for every school district in the nation. To learn more about equity, diversity, and inclusion, enroll in the Equity Toolkit e-courses. The Equity Toolkit is an interactive, four-course online series containing essential, research-based concepts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.