Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century
Na’ilah Suad Nasir
Tryphenia Peele-Eady and Elizabeth Tipton
Presidential Program Co-Chairs
San Diego, CA
April 22 – 25, 2022
Education faces a myriad of challenges and opportunities. Among them are residual effects of the four pandemics (Ladson-Billings, 2021)—the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic of systemic racism, the economic crisis, and the climate crisis—that together lay bare the long-standing and deep disparities in our systems of education and call for a new charge. This historical moment is an opportunity to build systems that realize the full potential of people and communities. It is a time for us to be laser-focused on understanding and redressing educational inequalities and building systems that embrace equity and justice. To do this, we must dismantle, redesign, and reconstruct systems that have reinforced and propagated structural racism, anti-Blackness, and educational injustice for minoritized people. We must move towards the reimagining and creation of systems that view opportunity and education as a human right.
Reimagining these systems also means transforming how education conceptualizes and engages a whole range of human experiences, identities, and practices such as language, Indigenous knowledges, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, among others. Creating systems that honor the full range of ways of knowing and developing, and of student needs will be key. This will require providing widespread access to transformative teaching and learning; creating learning spaces that respect the humanity and brilliance of all students and support them in developing their full potential; providing experiences rooted in respect for the cultural, emotional, and identity-related nature of learning. and preparing young people and adults to imagine and create a more just and sustainable society.
This work requires efforts over multiple spaces and time horizons. Thus, research has a critical role to play in creating new and expanded educational futures. In the nearer term, we must identify, study, and enhance existing efforts to move systems toward equity to support all learners across the lifespan, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education and adult learning. How can we help students learn despite inadequate and often hostile environments and systems? This includes better understanding how to disrupt bias in classrooms, schools, and colleges (and the mindsets and policies that maintain it), studying the effects of culturally sustaining curricula and pedagogy, integrated approaches to providing social supports, and specific ways to provide experiences for deep learning. It also includes understanding the characteristics of systems with equitable outcomes; and documenting successful efforts, bright spots, and existence proofs. We must also think about education globally, embracing global perspectives, looking to other nations for effective models and shared challenges, and considering how global forces structure educational opportunity.
Continued refinement alone will not be enough. We must also imagine expansive new systems, pedagogies, and approaches, including strategies for equitable funding between and within schools, districts, and the informal sector. Key in this work will be imagining new ways of conducting inquiry; cultivating partnerships, working with families and communities as authentic partners and engaging in larger-scale research practices, such as multi-sited ethnographies, accessing population level data, RCT’s, utilizing new forms of data and data analytics, integrating data sources that intersect with education (e.g. employment and social services) and coordinating parallel studies across geographies and developmental stages to inform the design of classrooms, schools, and systems in the service of equity.
Examples of key questions that might guide this work include:
1. What are the full range of knowledges, skills, and mindsets required to thrive in the 21st century? What kinds of formal and informal learning experiences and environments enable the development of these skills?
2. What kinds of teaching and learning processes foster equity, disrupt systemic inequality, and deepen learning?
3. What are the elements of equitable systems? What kinds of policies are required to foster them? How should schools and districts and higher education systems be structured? What social structures, policies, funding structures, and approaches to schooling are essential for equity?
4. What political or economic forces encourage or prevent such changes?
5. How can we strengthen connections between learning and engagement in community spaces, families, and schools?
6. What core intersectional ideas and theoretical lenses about race, racism, privilege, and other -isms (e.g., patriarchy, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, colorism, ageism, etc.) are key to our reimagining of education and schooling?
7. What new questions should we ask? How should we ask old questions in new ways?
The problems we seek to solve are multi-dimensional and multiplex and will require an expanded theoretical and empirical toolset. Our work moving forward will also require thoughtful and innovative approaches to research methods and methodologies, and new ways of working inter-disciplinarily and collaboratively across multiple disciplines and boundaries--including fields such as, sociology, law, psychology, ethnic studies, public health, anthropology, computer science and engineering, history, philosophy, child welfare, public policy, medicine, and others.
This work also demands that we consider what practitioners, policymakers, educators, university leaders, students, community organizations, and the public need from educational research, and how we center these on-the-ground concerns and challenges in the very design of our studies and collaborations. Doing so may necessitate deeper commitment to ethical partnerships and relationships with participants and to measuring the impact of our work. This commitment to impact in measurable ways is the hallmark of educational research for the future—educational research that engages the social imagination and creates the resilient and sustainable systems we need.
The 2022 meeting will challenge us to take up this work collectively, working and thinking together in new ways, and building new pathways towards the future of education.
Na’ilah Suad Nasir
Director, College of Education Multicultural Education Center
University of New Mexico
Ad Hoc MS Program Director; Associate Professor of Statistics
 Ladson-Billings, G. (2021). "I'm here for the hard re-set: Post pandemic pedagogy to preserve our culture," Equity & Excellence in Education, 54(1), 68-78