Looking Through an Equity Lens
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: December 3, 2019
Susan Carlile, a Portland State associate professor, said that the principal’s license classes she teaches through the Education Leadership & Policy (ELP) program are multifaceted—undergirded with improvement science and viewed through an equity lens.

“These three, one-credit courses are part of our year-long licensure program and require interns to use improvement science to interrupt educational disparities at their practicum sites,” Carlile said. “Of particular note this year was the presentation of the capstone improvement science posters, an event attended by administrators from at least 10 school districts, including Salem-Keizer.”

Among the three most important benefits of the program are that it:

  • 1, Aligns with the values of the College of Education (COE),
  • 2, Focuses on equity to expand COE students’ viewpoints (ideal for future school administrators), and
  • 3, Offers hands-on experience that culminates in the summer poster-project networking event. The posters outline the improvement science process and equity lens that COE students employ.

The Values of the COE

The equity focus for the COE students makes sense for the school itself. Fostering inclusivity is among the core values within the COE Strategic Plan 2019-2022. “Inclusive” is at the top of the list of values, stating that the COE is “welcoming and equity-focused.” One of the initiatives in the plan is to examine and improve pedagogy to reflect values of equity and inclusivity.

A Focus on Equity

This class exemplifies those values. Improvement science aligns with equity and inclusivity as it supports the idea of pursuing multiple perspectives. In fact, one of improvement science’s core concepts is for people in power to not assume that they know what’s best, but to actively seek other views, including the views of the people whom they serve. Carlile said that it can be easy to think that “you have the answer, especially if you’re the principal” at a school, but no one person can have the right answer every time.

“It almost never is one person who knows everything,” she said. “It’s most effective to have a group of people concentrating on one problem about which they are really passionate that is related to equity and educational disparities.”

The poster presentation serves to highlight the improvement science method and the equity focus of the ELP classes. Students identify an issue at a school, such as a high rate of chronic absenteeism, then they seek to find a solution to it. One of the first steps in this problem-solving process is to perform an equity audit. The audit entails collecting data from several years and can inform potential solutions. For example, an ELP student may look at how many students of color and teachers of color there are in the school at which they plan to build their improvement science project.

Equity is crucial to the course and to success in any environment, explained Tarehna Wicker, who earned her ELP principal’s license from the COE in 2019 and is a teacher and Middle Years Programme coordinator at the K–8 Vernon School in Portland. If a group of people with the same perspective get together and all have the same or similar ideas, while other ideas are ignored, then the organization they serve may suffer, Wicker said.

“If voices are silenced or not included or not supported in an environment,” she said, “we’re actively limiting our own richness of thought, unless we’re doing everything we can to make sure the room is full of richness and full of multiple perspectives.”

Hands-On Learning

In addition to incorporating an equity focus and broader perspective, the ELP classes benefit students with the summer poster presentation, an experiential project concluding with a major networking event.

That event and the program itself helped Celeste Pellicci, who was a teacher at a middle school in Gladstone while in the ELP program last year. Pellicci said the program aided her in obtaining her current role as an assistant principal at Sam Barlow High School in Gresham. The ELP program’s emphasis on improvement science has also helped guide her in her new position.

“It has been really nice to have something to bring with me as a first-year administrator,” Pellicci said. “My knowledge of improvement science helped me build confidence in leading groups of people, whether they’re small or large groups. It helped develop my capacity for leadership, and that was important to me.”

The ELP program is still fairly new and is also a product of collaboration. In 2018-19, Carlile received support with the program from previous COE faculty member Tania McKey, now senior director of humanities at the Portland Public Schools district-level Office of Teaching and Learning. Carlile also noted that she did not pioneer the work alone, having received support from colleagues in the COE.

Deborah Peterson and Pat Burk were instrumental in the origins and have also been engaged in ongoing improvement science efforts since 2015,” Carlile said.

What’s Next for the Program?

“In the coming months, our program will expand by completing an improvement capstone project rubric that may become a key assessment for our program,” Carlile said. “Our next capstone improvement science poster session will be in Summer Term 2020.”


Top: College of Education Prof. Susan Carlile shares how her Education Leadership & Policy courses use improvement science and an equity lens. Photo courtesy of PSU files

Middle: Tarehna Wicker earned her ELP principal’s license from PSU and is a teacher and Middle Years Programme coordinator at the Vernon School. Photo courtesy of Susan Carlile

Bottom: Celeste Pellicci earned her ELP principal's license from PSU
and is now an administrator at Gresham Barlow High School.
Photo courtesy of Celeste Pellicci

To share stories about the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.