“Students who are behind don’t need to just keep up, they need to catch up. The further behind they are, the more resources they need to succeed in school and close the achievement gap. That is equity in a nutshell.”Sandi Everlove
My first year teaching high school I was assigned two sections of something called “intervention math.” On day one I found myself staring into the eyes of thirty students who simultaneously appeared to be annoyed and terrified. They were significantly behind their peers in math – some by as much as five years – and shared a collective case of math phobia. My initial thought was, “These students deserve better than an inexperienced teacher who has no clue where to start.” It was my first lesson in the crucial difference between equality and equity. Everyone of those students was starting from a different place. The resources, type of instruction, learning experiences, and assessments they needed were unique and sometimes radically different. I spent the entire year scrambling to design lessons to meet their individual needs and feeling the pressure to squeeze 3-5 times the amount of learning out of every minute. Every night I worried about what I missed, who was still lost, or what I could do better. Thankfully, there were also success stories.
Kyndall was a junior who scored in the 4th grade on the placement test and was emphatic about her hatred of math. One day, while helping her with a problem that had multiple 3 digit addends, she placed her pencil on the far left column began to add the numbers in each column (this was before the Common Core). As I watched her work through problems, I saw that she had no idea what to do with the “leftover numbers” so she tagged them on the end. Once she grasped the idea that you add “tens to tens” and “ones to ones” and if the “ones” go beyond 9, you move the tens into the tens column – the floodgates opened. She probably worked harder that year than any student I ever had and her progress was nothing short of remarkable. I never forgot Kyndall. She represents the untapped potential that so many of our students have and how easy it is for them to slip through the cracks. She also left me questioning how one teacher could possibly uncover and correct the all misconceptions and gaps in learning that act as roadblocks to her students’ progress?
Years later I was working as the Chief Learning Officer of a non-profit. We were interested in people with innovative ideas that would increase the number of underserved/underrepresented students prepared for STEM fields. We learned of Zoran Popović, a dynamic professor from the University of Washington, who was developing a platform to find ideal learning pathways for individual students based on knowledge from cognitive psychology, educational technology, and machine learning. We invited him to share his work with a group of community and business leaders. To say he blew the minds of every person in the room would be an understatement. The work he described that day led to creation of the Enlearn Platform – a tool that helps teachers identify learning gaps and provide the right content or learning experience at the right time for every student. Moreover, the platform itself “gets smarter” by analyzing what works for every new student on the platform and applying that to future learners. Imagine a time where uncovering students’ learning needs isn’t happenstance or opportunistic but is a daily part of the 21st Century classroom. Imagine that reality for all of the Kyndalls, sitting in classrooms right this second, whose misconceptions keep them from realizing their full potential. At Enlearn, that time is now.
A passionate advocate for children, Sandi Everlove brings on the ground experience to her work in education. She was an award-winning high school chemistry teacher with Seattle Public Schools and received the Washington State Golden Apple Award in 1998. Through a U.S. Department of Education grant, she wrote and piloted a number of innovative science courses including an award-winning high school science ethics class. Her experience internationally includes creating and leading professional development opportunities for teachers in Guatemala. Sandi was the Chief Learning Officer at Washington STEM and led efforts to generate and share knowledge of innovation in STEM teaching and learning. In 2000, Sandi founded TeachFirst where she led the development of digital and face-to-face tools and resources to support teacher learning. Sandi is currently the Chief Learning Officer of Enlearn, a non-profit ed tech company focused on adaptive learning that puts teachers, students, and data first.