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Monday / March 19

Bringing Deep Equity PD to Louisville, KY

One district’s success story in implementing Gary Howard’s Deep Equity Program

Since 1954’s federal ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education, our nation has come a long way to improve educational opportunities for all students. However, despite the courageous efforts of schools and districts, students and educators are still seeing disparities in academic outcomes and school climate between students of different races and socio-economic classes. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that African-American K-12 students are 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students. The findings also showed that in the school year 2013-2014, schools that offered gifted education programs had 42% of African-American and Latino students; however only 28% of those students were actually enrolled in such programs[1]. These numbers are simply quantifying what educators experience and see on a daily basis.

Fortunately, districts and education leaders across the country are tackling this issue head-on. States like Illinois are recognizing the need to address these inequities and have passed state legislation requiring all school personnel to receive in-service training on civil rights and in cultural diversity, including racial and ethnic sensitivity and implicit racial bias[2].

As educators, we must ask ourselves, “How might our assumptions about our students and ourselves—the implicit biases we all carry—affect our ability to achieve our mission of educating all students?” The challenge of addressing achievement gaps is that such gaps do not develop overnight, and cannot be solved with simple solutions. Achievement gaps arise from complex, deeply entrenched systems that may span generations. Some factors that contribute to generational poverty and cycles of failure are out of the control of educators, but the evidence base shows that there are factors within our control. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics showed that from 2000 to 2015, the Hispanic dropout rate decreased by 18.6%. For schools and districts looking to make real, measurable, sustainable progress toward educational equity, evidence-based models such as the Deep Equity model can help build capacity for long-term, systemic change that dismantles entrenched inequities and targets the root causes of achievement gaps.

If you are interested in digging deeper with Deep Equity, take a look at Jefferson County School District’s story of how they addressed their institutional biases with: ongoing authentic work, dismantling educational disparities, and building culturally-responsive educators and courageous leaders.

Success Story: Jefferson County Public Schools, KY

Jefferson County Public School District is located in Louisville, Kentucky and is one of the largest diverse schools in the United States. With its continuous growth with respect to racial, linguistic and cultural diversity, and poverty; currently among their 172 schools’ student body, 51% are students of color, 64% receive free/reduced lunches, and over 6,000 are considered homeless. With predominantly white, middle-class teachers and an increasingly diverse student population, racial and socio-economic gaps in student achievement and opportunity needed to be addressed seriously.

The Problem

The problem is this; teachers were walking into their diverse classrooms unprepared. In a district-wide survey, 70% of JCPS teachers reported that they needed more professional development to help address the achievement gap to teach students more effectively. Another JCPS staff survey indicated that prior to coming to Jefferson, almost one in four had zero prior course work or training in cultural competence. Jefferson understood that if they wanted their educators to make significant impactful teaching in every classroom, they needed interpersonal and cultural context training. JCPS set ambitious goals in reshaping the district’s culture through the systematic promotion and practice of cultural competence district-wide.

Jefferson’s department of Diversity, Equity, & Poverty partnered with national expert Gary Howard and adopted an approach to promote cultural competency district-wide through the institute for cultural competence/Deep Equity. The primary goal of the institute was to strengthen the internal capacity of schools to deliver high-quality PD that is essential to true inclusion, equity, and excellence. The expected outcomes of this work was to train school teams to develop strategies and implement activities within their school that would increase their teachers’ knowledge, awareness, and skills to improve school and classroom climate and culture and to maximize instruction and learning within the social, academic and disciplinary practices.


The cultural competence/Deep Equity institutes included a four-day training commitment by at least three school staff that became the core cultural competence leadership team in each participating school. It was required that the teams included a principal or assistant principal to ensure administrator support of the cultural competence capacity building activities and professional development within their school. Each leadership team received the Leadership Manual for Inclusion, Equity, and Excellence, which served as the foundation for building the internal capacity and knowledge within each school. The manual provided the PD materials and guided four-year implementation plan to support schools in creating a process that fit their school’s culture and specific needs. Once the leadership teams completed the four-day institute, follow up sessions were provided to support the schools as they moved through each phase, specifically helping address challenges, analyze disaggregated data, and receive additional technical assistance with Gary Howard. The institute sessions were organized around Five Phases of engagement, growth, and change:

  1. Tone and Trust
  2. Personal Culture and Personal Journey
  3. From Social Dominance to Social Justice
  4. Classroom and Job-Related Implications and Applications
  5. Systemic Transformation and Planning for Change.

A total of 41 JCPS schools participated in the Institute for Cultural Competence/Deep Equity with Gary Howard. Following the three year intensive leadership team cohort work, the cultural competence/Deep Equity video modules were rolled out across the entire district to approximately 15,000 employees. Flexibility was necessary for educators as they needed training to fit into their already packed schedules, the modules along with a facilitator guide and participant workbook were provided for their use at their own speed. All school principals attended a training session on how to facilitate the training with their staff. While the video modules were the primary mechanism, the training incorporated many interactive exercises to guide courageous group conversations as well as help schools devise individual and school specific action plans for the year.


The cultural competence leadership team cohorts shared substantive successes that included significant increases in understanding of culturally responsive issues and practices, stronger relationships among staff, increased honest discussions around sensitive topics, and development of authentic/effective relationships with students. Importantly, some of the trained leaders that left cohort schools took the lead in their new school and continued participation, illustrating the district-wide capacity building leadership.

The effects didn’t stop there. After the schools implemented their plans of action, minority students reported higher feelings of belonging in their school, being in a caring environment, and were more engaged in the classroom. This translated into better academic achievement. Take a look at these positive changes that happened in Jefferson schools that participated in cultural competence/Deep Equity:

  • 92% increase in Reading Proficiency in African American students
  • 17% increase in Reading proficiency in in free/reduced lunch students
  • 89% increase in Math Proficiency in African American Students
  • 32% increase in Math Proficiency in free/reduced lunch students

Although their journey does not end here, Jefferson is one step closer to making that transformative cultural change that brings inclusion across all students. To download the full success story of Jefferson Country Public Schools, click here.

If you are ready for a transformative change and want to see Deep Equity first hand, join us in Chicago for Corwin’s Deep Equity Institute with keynote by Gary Howard and Jon Saphier.


[2] Bill Status of HB3869

Written by

Karina is the Marketing Manager for Corwin Institutes


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