The Learning Accelerator Blog/Using Data to Advocate for Equitable Practices

diversity, equity, and inclusion research & measurement seeking and measuring broader aims

Using Data to Advocate for Equitable Practices

by Violet Ford on August 28 2023

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – John Lewis

At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), we are working to advance a research-informed vision for equitable teaching and learning. In doing so, we recognize the significant challenges that students face – from insufficient resources to learning differences, social issues, and beyond. Addressing these challenges requires educators, parents, policymakers, and community members to advocate for improved educational experiences in a way that is equitable as well as supported by data. Acknowledging the need to address and advocate for students, TLA created the Data Advocacy Guide to support advocates – whether they be district leaders, families, educators, or students – in gathering relevant data and understanding how to use it. Likewise, we created this guidance to support advocates as they engage in transparent conversations and work alongside decision-makers to make critical improvements.

In developing the Data Advocacy Guide, our team asked several educators what they felt would be most useful and then leveraged their perspectives. Their overarching thoughts were that they wanted to know: how to leverage data for change, how data can be collected and analyzed in an equitable way to ensure findings are student-centered, and how to use data to illuminate an accurate account of what is occurring within their students’ ecosystems.

See something, do something

Advocacy supported by data in the K-12 space is vital for creating meaningful shifts in practice. In my own city, I have seen the power of parents and educators partnering with policy- and decision-makers to advocate for universal school choice; district leaders and teachers advocating for teacher pay raises; and students advocating for safer schools and communities. Data served as the driver for these advocacy efforts (whether formal or informal), such as state salary comparisons, student assessments, observations, and interviews/focus groups.

The Data Advocacy Guide is designed such that when you see something in your city, community, or school district (whether you are a student, family member, community advocate, or educator), you will feel empowered to leverage data to advocate and do something. At TLA, we believe it is important to support stakeholders as they navigate the challenges of leveraging data for advocacy, so the guide surfaces activities, strategies, and concrete examples. As stakeholders use the guide, they can:

  • Chart their level of data access according to their role and use the accompanying workbook to create a data collection plan;

  • Identify a purpose for advocacy that is anchored in equity; and

  • Create a plan for data collection that is focused and achievable.

The convergence of data, advocacy, and equity

When used responsibly, data identifies areas for improvement and can be an impetus for dismantling systems that have historically undermined and ignored the needs of students positioned furthest from opportunity. However, when used irresponsibly, data can lead to a poor representation of student achievement and overconfidence in counterproductive practices. Specifically, there is a need for access to and analysis of disaggregated data to ensure that findings are reflective of subpopulations so districts and schools understand where resources are needed and accurately identify trends. As a resource centered on equity, the Data Advocacy Guide provides a roadmap for gathering, organizing, and analyzing disaggregated data to ensure the stories derived from the data are fair, inclusive, and relevant to all students.

Putting the Data Advocacy Guide into action

There is an urgent need for the sector to connect how policies (at the state, district, and school level) and school/classroom practices work for students. In some cases, it is evident that students are not reaping the best benefits of their learning experiences. In a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “almost one of every five students does not reach a basic minimum level of skills to function in today’s societies.” In other cases, disproportionalities are more discreet – yet just as hurtful and even oppressive as students are subjected to low perceptions of their ability to achieve based on their skin color. Using the Data Advocacy Guide is an opportunity for district and school teams as well as individuals to be honest about what is occurring with students, be bold and equitable in collecting data, and move forward with advocacy centered on the needs of students – locally, nationally, and globally.

About the Author

Dr. Violet Ford is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Her research focuses on equitable learning system implementation.