Equitable by Design: 3 Schools/Districts Leading The Way

Design thinking, as defined and championed by Stanford’s d.school and IDEO, is important for school networks. At Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark, an advocate for design, writes, “School networks are one of the most important innovations in modern era of US K-12 education,” and including a design process can be “a unique path to value creation.

Innovative network design efforts include Big Picture, EL Education, ISSN, New Tech, Altschool, Bridge Academies (Kenya), and IDEO’s Innova (Peru). High-profile design experiments include Khan Lab School and the XQ Super School Project, a $50 million prize to redesign high schools. While these efforts address some design challenges in education, none specifically address equity, which is my interest. School networks matter. Research shows that students who attend schools in networks that focus on “deeper learning” graduate at higher rates, although the benefits are less for students in poverty. How can good network design help states and districts deliver more equitable teaching and learning?

School networks matter.

There are a number of design challenges for improving equity in education, but one that is gaining more traction is how do we support the rapidly increasing number of dual language immersion programs. As the demographics of public education change, schools are serving increasing numbers of English language learners, and are struggling to serve them well. Some states and districts have looked to school integration and dual language immersion to meet this need. While the benefits of learning a second language have been well documented, they also view dual language programs as a way to encourage affluent parents to keep their children in public schools. The US Secretary of Education, John King, has even suggested that dual language immersion is a strategy to address segregation. In regard to dual language programs, states and districts face three major design challenges:

  1. A critical shortage of high quality bilingual and biliterate teachers, especially in early childhood education.
  2. Poor quality or hard-to-find dual language curriculum and teacher resources
  3. Scalable, competency-based professional development customized for dual language teachers.

At VIF International Education, the country’s leading provider of comprehensive dual language immersion program solutions, we’re tackling these design challenges with forward-thinking districts and schools seeking positive student outcomes. Three examples:

Houston Independent School District’s Challenge: Superintendent Terry Grier envisioned all HISD students being Global Graduates, and doubled the number of dual language immersion programs as a key strategy to reach this goal.

  • Solution: VIF helped the HISD team prepare bilingual teachers and design globally themed, competency-based professional development, featuring the country’s first large-scale customized digital badging system.
  • Result: Since last August, more than 1,800 HISD teachers in 55 dual-language schools have earned 4,500 badges (the equivalent to 45,000 hours of CEUs). Teachers in schools such as Farias Early Childhood Center are now preparing students as young as four years old to graduate possessing the characteristics they need to be successful in college and to compete in the global workforce.

Edgecombe County Public School’s Challenge. When Superintendent John Farrelly and his team were dealing with one of the highest dropout rates and three of the lowest performing elementary schools in North Carolina, they sought district-wide change.

  • Solution: VIF helped Edgecombe leadership design a global learning solution for all 14 schools in the district, including delivering dual language and ESL professional development and curriculum resources as a key component.
  • Result: Families and community members in the county have gained confidence in the school district to prepare their children to be global-ready. Students that had fled the district for private school options, returned.

Holt Elementary’s Challenge: In a high poverty area of Durham, North Carolina, Holt was facing declining enrollment and downward trending student achievement.

  • Solution: During a tour of a VIF global school, Principal Star Sampson saw the vision for transforming Holt into a global village. Her school would focus language efforts on Mandarin and Spanish and a whole-school commitment to global themes. VIF recruited high quality bilingual cultural exchange teachers for Holt. VIF’s Learning Center allowed all of her teachers to participate in structured, sequential participatory professional development in a collaborative, inquiry-based global community of practice.
  • Result: Holt’s Spanish and Mandarin dual language programs thrive. Teaching core skills through a global lens has dramatically increased students’ engagement and development of critical 21st Century Skills. The school has reversed years of declining enrollment, and now has a waiting list.
The U.S. educational system has the student diversity to be the world’s finest

The U.S. educational system has the student diversity to be the world’s finest. Our next design challenge at VIF is to take our 27 years of experience working with innovators like Terry Grier, John Farrelly, and Star Sampson and create a model, scalable school network that is equitable by design.

For more, check our our ten-part blog series on Getting Smart and this inspiring video: