In April, 2019, our publisher Larry Jacobs had a wonderful chat with Discovery Education’s President of K-12 Education, Scott Kinney. Read the transcript below.
Scott, educational equity is a term that has a lot of meanings for a lot of people. Can you tell me what equity means for Discovery Education?
Great question to start off with, Larry. I think you are right that equity is one of those words that has multiple meanings depending on your perspective.
From Discovery Education’s perspective, we would agree with New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who, in a video I recently saw, spoke of educational equity as—and I am paraphrasing here—providing all students what they need to reach the bar that has been set for them.
We at Discovery Education believe every student deserves access to the resources, opportunities, supports and services they need to reach their fullest potential. By creating standards-aligned, digital curriculum resources and content that engages all learners, as well as the professional learning educators need to maximize the effectiveness of these resources, we believe we are supporting the creation of equitable learning environments that help all students not only reach but exceed their goals.
The national conversation around defining and improving educational equity seems to be picking up steam. Any thoughts to why?
Well, I think there are two reasons.
The simplest reason is that across the country, there are still students who do not have, for a variety of social, economic, and political reasons, access to the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.
I think the other reason is that many of the initiatives and innovations that educators thought would revolutionize education and solve the equity issue fell short. In particular, I think many of us in the education community expected technology to be a silver bullet that would solve many of the issues facing education.
Now, in my mind, there is no doubt the wave of technology that has flowed into the hands of teachers and students over the last few years has improved K-12 teaching and learning for students across the United States. However, the equity issue—the fact that some students don’t have the teachers, the technologies, social/emotional support, or other opportunities—persists, and we as a society need to put our collective heads together to solve this challenge.
I want to focus on educational technologies for a moment. You mention technology has improved teaching and learning—has it also improved equity?
Yes, I believe educational technologies have improved equity. Let me focus for a bit on the high quality, digital content included in digital curricula created by Discovery Education.
The content that Discovery Education creates helps to improve the vocabulary of young learners by presenting them with a wide-range of academic language. The high quality content accessible to students in our digital curriculum helps break-down barriers to learning by providing read aloud options that support reading fluency, and varying levels of text complexity to support readers at all levels. If reading the text does not engage them, there is a video alternative, or better yet, an interactive tool to help them understand the concept. High quality digital content also provides multiple language options for students learning a second language.
In addition, the content in our digital curriculums and supplemental resources encourages educators to let students show what they have learned in many different ways, from the traditional written response to a complex video production. Structures in place throughout our digital curriculum encourage the creation of feedback loops between both teachers and students and student and their peers. Our services also provide students with alternative ways of showing their understanding of content through a variety of mediums, such as a simple graphical presentation, digital drawing, or a quick self-produced video.
These are just a few examples of why our content, which was developed for diverse student audiences and curated by experts for ease of access, is among the most powerful resources available to school systems seeking to improve equity.
What role does professional learning play in improving equity?
I think professional learning plays a key role in promoting equity, especially when you are considering technology. It is ridiculous for school leaders and policymakers to say, “Look, we are going to give you a wide variety of new tools that you’ve never used, but have the ability to provide your students a host of new educational opportunities. We’ll leave it to you to figure out where to go from there.”
The key to unlocking the potential of educational technology and maximizing its ability to improve equity is to provide educators professional learning that demonstrates how to thoughtfully integrate technology into classroom instruction. You can’t just tell people to change—you have to show them both how to change and how change will positively impact students.
What role do you think companies like Discovery Education play in improving educational equity?
I think companies like Discovery Education play a critical role in improving educational equity. While the wave of technology that has flowed into classrooms has not completely solved our nation’s equity issues, it has provided millions of students with new educational opportunities that are preparing today’s learners for success in the classroom and beyond. As companies like Discovery Education create new services, one of the things we need to consider is how our services impact equity. I encourage my colleagues across the educational services industry to do the same—our children are depending on it.
Discovery Education’s President of K-12 Education Scott Kinney has spent 25 years supporting the success of all learners through a variety of roles in both public education and the business world. Prior to his current position at Discovery Education, Scott served as the organization’s Senior Vice President of Education Partnerships and before that, as Senior Vice President of Professional Development. Before joining Discovery Education, Kinney spent 15 years in public education, serving at the school district and regional service center levels. Kinney has taught undergraduate and graduate classes at the university level and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.