Efficacy Research

Equity of Opportunity and the Baltimore County Public School District

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How BCPS Uses Digital Curriculum to Enhance and Advance its Equity Initiative

Today’s classrooms are increasingly diverse. Students learn at different paces and in different ways. Some students accelerate quickly through courses while others lack the basic skills necessary to master grade-level content and need additional educational support.

Students also have varied backgrounds. They might speak many native languages — students at BCPS speak 85 languages from 108 countries. They have different social identities. Some struggle with physical and learning disabilities. Others come from myriad socioeconomic statuses. Just as important, students who are ready to take on additional academic challenges should have the opportunity to excel, while those who are historically underserved deserve the extra time and attention needed for content mastery.

Teachers, particularly in the new era of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), are tasked with the difficult, but important, challenge of meeting the needs of these various student groups and guiding them toward increased achievement. In order for each and every one to achieve, students must have equal opportunity to learn — regardless of their circumstances, aptitudes, or proficiency levels. For districts across the country, the challenge is to address issues such as achievement gaps, low graduation rates, and subpar college attendance in order to give students the opportunity to master the material and skills necessary for future success in college, work, and life.

One tool teachers can use to provide this balance and access at scale is digital curriculum; however, technology that personalizes instruction can’t single-handedly create equity. It must be combined with a well-designed and supportive learning environment in which staff are culturally competent. BCPS provides a model of equity that successfully incorporates all of these elements.

Supporting Equity in Your District with Digital Curriculum

Implementing a digital curriculum program, when combined with intensive training to build capacity to apply an equity lens to decisions, has allowed BCPS to enhance learning opportunities for every student, drive student engagement and motivation, and close achievement gaps. District Administrators offer this advice to education leaders interested in launching a similar equity effort.

  1. Take the time for proper implementation. When taking on systemic work, there are key factors that always need to be considered whenever you’re rolling out any kind of initiative. It needs to become part of the fabric of the system itself, and that means thinking about all of the components that could be impacted. It’s important to first work to create a teaching and learning environment that maximizes the impact of digital curriculum. Have conversations with teachers and administrators about what is needed to ensure that the classroom instructional environment is one that is personalized and supports digital curriculum. 
  2. Effectively address the existing culture for teaching and learning to enhance learning opportunities. Technical solutions are insufficient to address historical patterns of underservice that characterize our collective engagement of diverse student groups. As a result of this recognition, prioritizing time for courageous conversations about staff identity, students’ identities, and the communities we serve is essential to maximizing the possibilities that a digital learning environment can provide.
  3. Be strategic in the selection of digital curriculum. When selecting digital curriculum, White says it’s important to consider how students are reflected in it. The digital curriculum must represent diverse student groups with myriad approaches to learning. In order for students to truly engage with and connect with digital curriculum, they must see themselves in the content and in the resources provided to them. In a way, the digital curriculum itself must be personalized to each and every student. 
  4. Provide ongoing, personalized professional development. Consider how you can equip school principals and other administrators to coach their faculties in best practices and instill the skills, knowledge and capacity necessary to personalize learning for students. Professional learning and equity coaching opportunities should be face-to-face and varied in format to keep them engaging. Consider one-on-one coaching, webinars, and in-school and regional opportunities. 
  5. Provide leadership as you gain buy-in and consensus for your equity efforts. Provide leadership as you gain buy-in and consensus for your equity efforts. This support should extend throughout the district. The fact that the Board of Education adopted an equity policy was essential because that equity policy demonstrated the board’s commitment to equity and serves as the anchor for the work the district’s doing. Any other system moving forward should consider where their Board of Education is with the work and consider steeping the work in an equity policy.

All Students Deserve the Opportunity to Succeed

BCPS is an outstanding example of the positive impact equity of opportunity can have in raising the bar in education. Realizing its vision to create instructional environments that support academic rigor and cultural relevance, BCPS is igniting the potential of each and every student through digital curriculum. 

“BCPS, and many of our district partners across the country, are using digital curriculum to expand access to quality education, making it possible for classroom teachers to personalize instruction to meet the needs of all students,” says Jean Sharp, Vice President of Content Development, Apex Learning. “The result is higher achievement for all students.” 

While there has been progress in advancing equity in education, there remains tremendous potential to ensure that every student receives access to the specific and varied resources he or she needs to graduate college- and career-ready. By supporting every teacher and every classroom with personalized learning, we have an opportunity to better meet the needs of all students in our quest to increase academic performance across the nation.