Reforming or Transforming?: The Politics and Implementation of Equity-Based Instructional Reform
The term “equity” is commonly used in education discourse as a goal of educational improvement efforts. Yet, the term can be conceptualized in many ways, and equity conceptions are rarely interrogated in policy studies (Bulkley, 2013; Jencks, 1988; Levinson et al., 2022). Still, equity conceptions reflect an underlying ideology and become embedded into the language we use and the policy solutions we support and enact (Allbright et al., 2019; Quinn et al., 2019; Scott, 2013). In this three-part study grounded in a conceptual framework that positions local actors as policy implementers and acknowledges the role of nested organizational contexts in influencing individuals’ beliefs and action, I examine the individual, organizational, and institutional factors that shape local actors’ beliefs about equity and enactment of equity- oriented reform. First, using a qualitative comparative case study design leveraging interview (N=81) and document analysis (N=100), I examine how district leaders, and leaders in external organizations with whom they partner, conceptualize equity and how those conceptions influence their enactment of district-level instructional reform initiatives. Second, I conduct a teacher interview study (N=22) to examine teachers’ conceptions of and beliefs about culturally responsive instruction, and the extent to which aspects of teachers’ school environments are related to their conceptions of and efforts to engage in culturally responsive instruction. Finally, using an experimental survey method design with a national sample of teachers (N=270), I examine the effects of institutionalized language in education (“racial achievement gap”) on teachers’ individual beliefs about appropriate responses to equity concerns. Collectively, these studies contribute to the field’s understanding of the organizational and institutional mechanisms at play in efforts to implement equity-oriented instructional reforms.