A Focus on Equity: Examining the Center for Urban Education Tools

The Annie E. Casey Foundation defines equity as

‘the state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.’ The concept of equity is synonymous with fairness and justice. It is helpful to think of equity as not simply a desired state of affairs or a lofty value. To be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.

Following, we’ll explore how the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California can help your school or program reflect on racial equity and utilize data to provide more equitable outcomes for your students.

1. What Is the Center for Urban Education?

  • The Center for Urban Education focuses on (1) racial equity and (2) equity-mindedness in higher education through the use of different tools and data. In addition, they provide learning institutes to provide training to create change. See a video about the center here.
  • One specific tool that they use is called the Equity Scorecard, which uses data as a tool and framework to create change to better support and provide more equitable outcomes for minoritized students.

2. Why Focus on Racial Equity and Equity-Mindedness?

From the CUE website:

CUE’s equity efforts are focused specifically on race and ethnicity in light of historical and current oppression in American education. Our goal is to achieve equity in outcomes for racially minoritized students—both in attainment and retention as well as in access to scarce opportunities like honors programs and high-value degrees such as in STEM fields.

The tools use action inquiry to help practitioners develop critical race consciousness: an understanding of how the way they operate produces racial inequity. The tools enable practitioners to see how racism is reflected in what they notice and fail to notice, what they consider good and not good, and what they say and fail to say—even in the absence of underlying intent.

Additional terminology pertaining to equity and racism can be found in their “Core Concepts of Racial Equity” document.

3. Who Is Their Target Demographic?

Generally, CUE works with folks in higher education to address equity gaps and racism at the institution. However, the tools and resources provided could be modified and used in other teaching and learning contexts as well.

4. What Are the Tools That They Provide?

Outside of their learning institutes, CUE also provides a myriad of resources on their website for free. These are helpful and could be used by an individual instructor, program, department, division, or whole instruction to create instructional change.

Their tools are broken down into four phases.

  • Phase 1: Laying the Groundwork
    • The tools in this phase allow participants to examine racial equity and equity-mindedness more deeply. It also allows people to check in with their experiences and understanding around these topics as they work together with others to build a strong team.
    • Materials include: core concepts of racial equity, guide for composing a campus racial equity team, concepts and activities for racial equity work, and implicit bias in action.
  • Phase 2: Defining the Problem
    • This is when participants disaggregate data to identify racial equity gaps within their programs and school. Student outcomes and data are broken down by race and ethnicity. Then, goals are set to address these equity gaps.
    • Materials include: data tools, data storytelling, and asset mapping.
  • Phase 3: Creating Solutions Through Inquiry
    • Tools are provided to support action-inquiry. The goal is to look at the interactions between students and faculty and staff. In addition, tools and frameworks are provided to analyze different documents provided to students, including syllabi and webpages.
    • Materials include: observation tools, document review, syllabus review, web scan, and student interviews and focus groups.
  • Phase 4: Sustaining and Scaling the Work
    • The last step is focused on keeping the working going. This includes both a focus on individual practices and the institution as a whole.
    • Materials include: a checklist for sustaining institution-wide racial equity, embedding equity-mindedness, and support for sustained equity-minded work.

Outside of the tools, they also provide two case studies that explore what two institutions did when going and growing through these phases.

5. How Can a Program, Department, or School Use These Resources?

Moving through each phase provides a strong scaffold for educators who are interested in long-term analysis of their individual practice and/or institutional change. Each phase builds off of the other. There are many ways to use and embed these resources during the academic year. For example,

  • Each phase could be used as a framework for professional development within a department or school. This way, all educators are walking through each resource together. This would require at least four professional development days.
  • If professional development can’t be focused on this equity work and the tools provided by CUE, the resources could be implemented one-by-one in department meetings. There could be an equity section blocked out in each department meeting to use a resource or report out on the use of the resource within individual practice.
  • Educators could also go directly to phase III, which is where they are able to do a deeper dive into the materials that are provided to students. The artifact analysis for syllabi and other materials shared with students can be quite helpful. This might be something that a department or program chooses to use before a new quarter, semester, or academic year begins.

Have you utilized CUE’s resources for your school or program? How did it work out? Do you have other equity tools you’ve found especially beneficial? Please share in the comments below.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020). Equity vs. equality and other racial justice definitions. https://www.aecf.org/blog/racial-justice-definitions

Center for Urban Education. (n.d.). https://cue.usc.edu

About Stephanie Marcotte

Stephanie Marcotte
Stephanie N. Marcotte, EdD, is the nursing resource coordinator and an adjunct professor of academic ESL at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts. She is passionate about supporting and advocating for credit-bearing academic ESL community college programs. In May 2020, she completed her doctoral studies at the University of New England in Maine, where she focused on transformative leadership in higher education. Stephanie is a MATSOL board member, and she has previously served as an NNETESOL board member and as president. Lastly, she has served in various union leadership capacities at the community college, including the position of union chapter president.
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One Response to
A Focus on Equity: Examining the Center for Urban Education Tools

  1. Very good post. I definitely appreciate this website. Keep it up!

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