In the summer of 1960, reverend Solomon B Caulker, an African college administrator from Sierra Leone, travelled to Israel to attend an international conference on improving science education in developing countries. After listening to several papers on nuclear power, Caulker stood up to address the group.
While it is of great interest to talk about nuclear physics and fusion and all these things … it is of even greater interest to know how to save so many of our babies, for in Sierra Leone, 8 out of every 10 babies who are born die before they are one year old … One of the most difficult problems of the African people in these underdeveloped states is to understand that there is any relationship physically between cause and effect. This is a primary problem: whether typhoid is caused by drinking dirty water or whether it is caused by someone who has bewitched you; whether your babies are dying because you are not feeding them properly, or whether they die because someone who hates you put sickness on them … [these questions are] of far more importance to me, and I am hoping that toward the end of the conference I can go home and say there is a possibility that these things do change.
Caulker’s comments had a powerful effect on several Westerners in the audience, including Jerrold Zacharias, EDC’s founder. Zacharias had been invited to the conference to speak about PSSC Physics—the landmark high school curriculum he and his colleagues had developed. But he returned home preoccupied by his conversations with Caulker and the problems of Africa. Within months, Zacharias had secured an initial planning grant to bring a team of African and American educators together to study African education and address the critical link between science education and public health. The team decided they needed to begin with mathematics education, to provide the framework for science. EDC launched the African Mathematics Project, a curriculum and teacher training program, and it ran until 1975. The companion African Primary Science Program, an elementary science curriculum project, ran from 1965 through 1976.
This 15-year collaboration of EDC and 10 African countries had a wide-ranging impact—both on African education and on EDC’s development. Over the course of these projects, EDC evolved from an organization specializing in science education to one focused on issues of equity, access to learning opportunities and social services, and human development. Many of the most challenging and compelling questions we face today can be found in our early work in Africa, including, How can we bring together diverse coalitions—both within the United States and around the world—to work on collaborative solutions? How can we ensure that all participants are full partners in the sharing of knowledge, resources, services, and expertise? How can we design and adapt learning tools to improve access to education for the most disadvantaged populations? And, most importantly, how can we employ these tools to strengthen the critical connections that Solomon Caulker described so eloquently—the connections between education, health, and human development?
Last January, EDC’s Executive Committee and Board of Trustees met with senior EDC project staff to discuss many of these questions. The general topic of the meeting was “Equity-Related Work at EDC,” but as the discussion unfolded, it became clear that the term “equity” encompasses a wide range of complex issues. It also became clear that conceptions of equity and other related terms are constantly evolving, which raises the ongoing need not only to examine our progress toward our goals but also to make sure that we understand and agree on just what those goals are. In this publication we share parts of that discussion with you, and we provide concrete examples of projects that we believe are promoting equity in different ways and in different arenas.
Evolving Terms: From Equality to Equity
Dr. Eric Jolly, EDC’s director of special projects, has spent his career studying and explaining the meanings of terms like “equity” and “access.” Jolly, a Cherokee storyteller and an appointee to the Congressionally Chartered Committee for Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering, came to EDC from the University of Nebraska, where he was director of affirmative action and diversity.
“When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] was first formulated it dealt with a very rudimentary definition of equality, which was ‘the absence of hostile action,’ rather than the presence of hospitable environment,” says Jolly. “And the absence of hostile action was actually intended to focus on one issue in America—the issue of race. But without any appreciable change in the budget, Congress did expand the charge: first, to include women; later, the disabled; later, veterans of the Vietnam era; and later, those over age 40. So now the charge of the EEOC includes all but about 15 percent of the U.S. population—on the same budget.
“Under the old definition,” Jolly continues, “equality of opportunity reasoned that if you presented me with two children, one who is starving and one who is overweight but poorly nourished, we would give them the same diet—because, after all, same meant equal and equal meant same. It was a very limited definition of equity. Yes, they both had an opportunity to receive a nutritious diet, but it was a diet that didn’t address their individual needs and so it didn’t produce an equal outcome: two healthy children. That’s why we’ve begun to expand our approach to focus on equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity.”
Hospitable environments. Empowerment. Equality of outcomes. How can these terms help us measure the impact and reach of EDC projects today? Access
Embedded in the definition of access is a series of questions, beginning with, “Access to what? and by whom?” At EDC, we work to assist various underserved populations in gaining access to services, opportunities, professionals (researchers, trainers, policymakers, etc.), and a range of learning tools—from quality curriculum materials to protocols for cancer screening to innovative technology. But we also focus on a complementary, or reciprocal, conception of access: namely, access to the strengths, contributions, and unique perspectives of people who tend not to be heard from in public discourse.
Access By Design
For the staff of the Access By Design project, the goal of universal access to technology goes well beyond equipment and wiring issues. It involves bringing disadvantaged communities into discussions about the design, development, and uses of technology, and about the policies that govern those uses. “We see our role as translators. We translate policy issues to community members, and we translate perspectives from these communities to policymakers and to the industry,” says Ellen Wahl, one of the project’s directors.
Wahl points out that legal and policy issues that seem distant may have a direct impact on daily life in local neighborhoods. For example, businesses and government agencies are providing more and more information and services online without comparable services offline—which can mean a lack of equal opportunity for those without access to the Internet. The shift to online commerce and communication can affect everything from the closing of bank branches to the way the public is notified of government meetings and regulations.
The staff of Access By Design spends a good deal of its time meeting with community leaders and organizations to find out how they perceive and use technological tools, and—perhaps most importantly—what kinds of needs and desires they have that are not being met by existing or available technology. “Rather than starting with products and then seeing how people use them, we try to start with people’s needs and then figure out what kinds of tools would help fulfill them,” comments Wahl. She cites a number of examples of the kinds of ideas and information her staff has gathered from these meetings:
- At Iris House, a New York City clinic for women with HIV, access to communications technology could enable participants to get good, current medical information. These women have a need for not just the raw information, but also for interpretation and discussion of the information so that it is relevant to their individual situations. They also expressed a desire to use video technology to create living legacies for their families.
- Staff members of the Rhode Island Indian Council saw ways in which they could have used technology applications to mediate a recent dispute between Indian groups over the repatriation of ancestral bones. As the negotiations began to break down and the dispute became more public, a white selectman got involved, which irritated the Indian council. “That selectman probably wouldn’t have become involved if we [members of the Indian groups] had had e-mail,” commented one of the staff members. He felt that e-mail would have provided the council and the tribes with a forum for discussing the issues among themselves in a less public, less confrontational, and less formal way.
- In New Orleans, organizations working with substance abusers talked about ways that they could use technology to create a more coordinated approach to treatment. For example, they could more easily share their data and thereby track who had received which services and, ultimately, rates of recidivism.
One of the primary goals of this kind of research is to create a process for engaging diverse communities in sustained discussions about technology development and policy. “We’re talking to people in various communities around the country to push the questions of access and equity and diversity,” explains Laura Jeffers, one of the project’s directors. “We try to understand not just how people get access to technologies but also what they do with those technologies, and what kinds of support they need to use them effectively.” The project is currently developing resource kits and guidelines for community leaders interested in organizing such discussions.
At the same time, project staff are sharing the data they’ve gathered at the community level with policymakers and industry leaders. “One of our goals is to influence the review process the industry uses when it designs new products,” Wahl says. “Every new product goes through extensive alpha and beta testing to see how various people view and use the product. Whom do they involve in those tests? What kinds of questions do they ask? We want them to expand the kinds of people they include and the range of questions they ask.
“We are not naïve about product development,” adds Wahl. “We know that companies don’t go forward with a product unless they see a fair amount of potential revenue. So we talk about markets and revenues while also talking about the critical importance of full access to technology. It’s not just about adding another feature to a given product; it’s about rethinking some of the basic assumptions about what technology can do.”
Multichannel Learning Center
While the staff and partners of Access By Design are imagining new technologies, several other projects are expanding access to learning through innovative uses of existing technologies. EDC’s Multichannel Learning Center (MCL) was founded on the philosophy that we need a variety of media, delivery systems, and teaching strategies—multiple channels—to improve learning opportunities around the world. Consider, for example, the challenge of improving education in Bolivia. According to a 1997 report by USAID, 94 percent of rural households live in absolute poverty, much of the population does not speak Spanish, and 55 percent of the population is functionally illiterate in any language.
It is a different statistic, however, that EDC staff has capitalized on in its 10 years of work in Bolivia: Nearly 7 out of 10 households in Bolivia have radios, a proportion far greater than any of the other 80 poorest countries in the world. Recognizing radio’s potential to overcome various educational, economic, and geographical obstacles, EDC—in partnership with the Bolivian government and other non-governmental organizations—began developing and piloting radio-based curriculum materials. Where they are used, the radio lessons enliven the classroom atmosphere through the imaginative use of stories, songs, physical activities, and role plays, which invite the active participation of the student in the learning process. The strategies began as an experiment but have been institutionalized and adapted to meet the needs of Bolivians across the country.
Since 1988, EDC has developed and delivered more than 600 Radio Math and Radio Health lessons, and close to a million Bolivian students and teachers have benefited from them. Evaluations of learning gains showed that children who used the programs far outperformed their counterparts in control groups.
A key to the radio lessons is that they use the medium as a lever for improving person-to-person education. The lessons are designed to engage teachers and caregivers as well as children, thereby tapping the educational potential of existing relationships. They also expand access to learning by providing educational opportunities outside of schools and within homes, villages, and communities.
Embedding technology and other learning tools within community settings—whether the community is a New York HIV clinic or a Bolivian village—is a strategy common to MCL, Access By Design, and many other EDC projects. It’s one of many strategies we use to build what Eric Jolly refers to as “hospitable environments”—places where people feel free and comfortable to seek services and pursue their own goals and interests.
Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet)
CTCNet, an alliance of more than 285 neighborhood computer centers serving low-income populations, provides a well-documented example of how the development of hospitable environments promotes equity and access. CTCs—which are based in public housing developments, libraries, museums, and youth centers—offer a variety of educational and vocational opportunities at low or no cost, including computer, job training, English language, and GED classes. They also provide community members with unstructured access to computers, the Internet, and e-mail.
Making technology available and accessible to those who otherwise could not afford it is crucial to promoting equity in today’s technology-driven society. But the environment in which those technology tools exist is equally important, according to a recent EDC study. Researchers surveyed more than 800 people who visited technology centers affiliated with CTCNet. (More than 60 percent of the respondents were female, two-thirds identified themselves as nonwhite, and 75 percent reported household incomes of less than $30,000.) One of the most striking findings in the survey was that respondents ranked “a comfortable, supportive atmosphere” as the top reason for coming to a technology center and, more importantly, for coming back; 94 percent expressed positive feelings about their center, while only 6 percent said their feelings were negative or mixed.
“CTCs stand out not only because they offer underserved populations access to technology, but also because they offer people opportunities to pursue their educational, employment, and other personal goals,” says June Mark, one of the authors of the study.
EDC researchers found that the majority of CTCNet participants use their centers to improve job skills and look for jobs. Well over half the job seekers at the centers reported that participation at the center brought them significantly closer to their vocational goals. In addition, most users reported gaining increased self-confidence, greater self-esteem, and support for pursuing personal goals through their experiences at the centers.
“Empowerment” is one of the more problematic terms in the vocabulary of equity. Traditional usage of the word often had a paternalistic connotation: Those in power will lend a helping hand to others who lack the strength to stand up for themselves. However, when today’s equity experts speak of empowerment, they mean two things: representation and power—or, as Jolly puts it, “input and impact. The first challenge is to bring diverse voices into the conversation, to make sure they are represented. But we also have to realize that representation isn’t enough. Input without impact is tokenism.” To Jolly, empowerment happens when the concerns of the disenfranchised are so ingrained in the group or community that they don’t need to be present for every conversation; someone else will continue to press on the issues they’ve raised.
“Equity is not just opening up opportunities for people who have traditionally been disenfranchised,” adds Maria-Paz Avery, of EDC’s Center for Education, Employment, and Community. “We will never have equity if we don’t also work with the groups that in fact have the power in this society. For me, it’s an issue of reciprocity. If we’re talking about the disabled populations, we need to talk about the abled populations. In our projects, we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure that we’re getting the participation of those who are in power.”
Hate Crime Prevention: A Multidisciplinary Approach
For two decades, Karen McLaughlin has worked to bridge the gulf that exists between one of the most powerful groups in society—criminal justice professionals—and one of the most vulnerable—the victims of hate crimes. As the first executive director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance and now as a senior policy analyst in EDC’s Center for Violence and Injury Prevention, McLaughlin has focused on identifying and removing the barriers that prevent hate crime victims from reporting crimes to police. Simultaneously, she has worked with criminal justice and social service professionals to improve their response to the reports that do come in.
McLaughlin was drawn to these issues because of the double-layer of silence surrounding hate crimes: victims are reluctant to report these crimes and, perhaps as a result, the perspectives of hate crime victims are often absent from public policy discussions. McLaughlin recalls being struck by that absence when she convened a public hearing to award the first funding under the Massachusetts Victims of Crime Act, in 1984. “We had a large group of people representing victims of a wide range of crimes—drunk driving, sexual assault, homicide victims. But no one showed up on behalf of the victims of hate crimes. No one even mentioned hate crimes. That was a formative experience for me. I saw a real need to advocate and reform the system.”
In 1990, McLaughlin helped spearhead passage of the federal Hate Crime Reporting law. “That year, we had a few hundred victims reporting to the police. Last year, more than 8,000 victims reported to police that they were hate crime victims. But victims of these crimes are still reluctant to come forward.”
The evolution of McLaughlin’s work—from victim assistance to public policy—illustrates the deepening definition of empowerment that Jolly and Avery describe. McLaughlin realized that in order to have real impact, hate crime victims had to do much more than speak up; they had to change the system.
Much of McLaughlin’s work these days is devoted to infusing the perspectives of hate crime victims into the everyday practice of criminal justice professionals. “The number one reason why victims don’t report crimes is because they think nothing will be done,” says McLaughlin. “We organize victim focus groups to identify the various barriers to access and equity, and then we relay those findings back to the professionals. We want to make police and prosecutors aware of any beliefs, attitudes, and practices they have that may interfere with their ability to fully investigate and act upon reported hate crimes. McLaughlin’s projects also use that research to identify gaps in legislation and to develop materials on best practices in hate crime prevention, comprehensive service delivery, and model laws, so that victims and victim support groups can lobby their own state governments.
Last spring, when Attorney General Janet Reno presented McLaughlin with the Crime Victim Service Award, she reflected on what McLaughlin had accomplished since taking that phone call in 1979. “Karen is a true visionary of the victims’ movement, having initiated a remarkable series of firsts in victim services during the past two decades,” said Reno, noting, among other things, McLaughlin’s role in developing the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. “Her influence on victim services in the United States and abroad has been profound.”
Equality of Outcomes
In arguing for an emphasis on equitable outcomes rather than equal opportunity, Eric Jolly uses the example of two malnourished children—one starving and one overfed. Providing these children with identical diets will not meet the ultimate goal of two healthy children. But what does it mean to apply that metaphor to, say, the education of a classroom of children, or an entire school full of children? Does it mean developing a customized curriculum for every child? Or does it mean that every child is going to leave that school with the same level of proficiency?
No. What it means is that we develop teaching strategies and curriculum materials that are robust enough to provide rich learning experiences for the widest possible range of students. In fact, one of the fundamental ways in which we evaluate student tasks and teaching approaches is by the degree to which they engage and challenge students of differing abilities and backgrounds.
Center for Mathematics Education
Mark Driscoll and Deborah Bryant specialize in the emerging field of mathematics assessment, which refers to the process teachers use to understand, respond to, and evaluate student thinking. As part of their training programs for teachers, Driscoll and Bryant help participants develop what Driscoll calls “good taste” in choosing worthwhile mathematics activities. In their new book, Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment, Driscoll and Bryant write about the need for teachers to ensure that “tasks involving important mathematics elicit from the broadest range of students what they truly know and can do, and that there are no unnecessary barriers due to wording or context.”
In addition to emphasizing the appropriateness of tasks for a range of students, Driscoll and Bryant urge teachers to continually return to the question of what is essential mathematics for students to learn. This theme cuts across the work of EDC content experts in mathematics, science, language arts, and health education. Focusing on outcomes for students means focusing on the larger picture; rather than asking what kinds of facts we want children to learn, we ask what kinds of understanding and skills we want them to build.
“The point,” says Al Cuoco, director of EDC’s Center for Mathematics Education, “is that there isn’t one approach to mathematics that works for everyone. Still, I can point to three experiences I want every kid coming out of a middle or high school mathematics class to have: (1) some experience solving difficult problems; (2) some experience with abstraction; and (3) some experience building a theory. Those kinds of experiences, to me, are the essence of mathematics.”\
Center for Science Education
Judith Opert Sandler, director of EDC’s Center for Science Education, is also committed to enhancing academic outcomes for the broadest array of students. In an effort to improve science education in urban school districts across the country, she and her staff work district by district, introducing excellent materials and teaching strategies, providing teacher leadership and professional development opportunities, and challenging some longstanding beliefs about what constitutes quality science instruction and which students are entitled to it. “For some kids science is seen as a must; for others it is not,” she explains. “This is an equity issue.”
In their work with schools, the staff members at CSE have learned that considerations of equity in the science curriculum can’t be the purview of the special education teacher or the diversity coordinator alone. In order to be effective, equitable policies and practices must be central to the design of every science program. “We need science coordinators and other administrators to become advocates for quality science programs for all of their students,” she explains. “And in order to be effective advocates, they need to see, firsthand, what good science looks like.”
At a recent workshop for school teachers and administrators, Sandler and her staff engaged participants in good science—what they refer to as “inquiry-based, hands-on” activities. “Our goal,” says Doris Santamaria, one of the conference organizers, “was to use a real classroom activity to initiate conversations between science coordinators and their district colleagues on what it takes to provide high-quality science instruction for all their students, especially those who traditionally have not had access to good science instruction: students with disabilities, English language learners, girls, and students from different racial and ethnic groups.”
Participants at the equity workshop heard a range of practical strategies for deepening—and opening up—their schools’ science programs. For example, Maria Dufek, a bilingual teacher from the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, emphasized the importance of an integrated curriculum for English language learners. “Science coordinators need to make connections with ESL teachers so that students get content-based ESL learning,” she explained. In other sessions, EDC’s Judy Zorfass demonstrated ways in which lessons could be adapted for students with disabilities. After participants worked through a lesson on electrical circuits, Zorfass pointed out that blind students who can’t see the illumination of a light bulb could be guided to feel the bulb for heat.
The workshop also moved into discussions of policy and funding. Not surprisingly, the urban districts represented at the workshop have little money to invest in upgrading their science programs. To Melva Green, a curriculum specialist from the Baltimore City Schools, the key is to make sure that science gets its fair share of the funds that are available. “I say to the principals in my district, ‘You’ve spent your money on reading three years in a row; maybe it’s time to spend some on science.’” In Jackson, Mississippi, another CUSER district, instructional specialist Harriet Garrison is using a recently received federal grant to develop links between the language arts and science curricula. “I’m excited about the new books we bought because they are literature based and have strong science content—stories and picture books about ecosystems and animals and plant life that will really engage all the kids,” says Garrison.
For Judith Sandler and her staff at the Center for Science Education, equity is not an add-on or a special feature of good science materials and instruction; it’s integral. That all educational programs should be evaluated, in part, on their ability to engage diverse learners is a conviction that runs through the work of each EDC expert quoted in this article. And it’s evident in the work of the earliest EDC projects—particularly the African mathematics and science programs. As Solomon Caulker argued in 1960, rigorous and engaging science education—rigorous education in general—is critical for healthy human development. Through four decades of developing and implementing health and education programs for every kind of learner—children and adults around the world—we’ve learned firsthand how elusive the goals of full equity and access can be.
But we’ve also discovered strategies that work, beginning with the recognition that successful initiatives are built on collaborations in which the participants are viewed as partners in the development of learning tools, and not as passive recipients. In creating educational experiences for any group of people—from schoolchildren to adult practitioners—we make a concerted effort to involve those with diverse backgrounds and abilities in the process of design and testing. This, we believe, is a critical step in the development of powerful teachers, mentors, tools, and settings. We then apply the same philosophy to our evaluation of various learning experiences: The quality of the activities should be measured in part by their ability to engage diverse learners. That is why at EDC we tend to speak of “excellence” and “equity” in the same breath. Designing truly equitable learning experiences is a challenge worth pursuing because it leads toward richer and more rigorous learning opportunities for everyone.
Originally published on May 1, 1999