As education leaders plan for the fall, they face increased costs to meet pandemic mitigation guidelines and simultaneous reduced budgets. This seems like an impossible proposition, but the concept of targeted universalism can help.
Targeted universalism is a way to develop strategies that help all groups reach a shared or universal goal through a deep focus on equity when choosing and designing interventions and in understanding progress and outcomes. The concept emerged from collaborations between researchers john a powell, Angela Blackwell, and Manuel Pastor, who studied urban policy solutions that focused solely on cities while ignoring surrounding and interconnected suburbs.
Targeted universal strategies typically start with a focus on deeply understanding and addressing challenges for group members on the margins (e.g., students with disabilities who are severely under- or over-performing compared to the average) and then designing solutions that meet their needs — but which are then applied to all members of the group (e.g., all students with disabilities) and sometimes an entire population (e.g., all students). The example commonly used to illustrate targeted universalism is of curb cuts, the ramps cut from the top of a sidewalk down to the adjoining street. While originally designed and promoted by advocates in wheelchairs, curb cuts ultimately benefited the majority of pedestrians who use curb cuts for strollers, carts, bikes, and simple convenience. (One architect found that 90% of unencumbered pedestrians went out of their way to use a curb cut in a shopping mall).
In the world of education, this could look like focusing on those for whom COVID-related learning losses are greatest: those who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, students with disabilities, youth in foster care, those involved with the juvenile justice system, or young people experiencing homelessness. A recent survey from NWEA projects that students will return to school in the fall with only 70% of a typical year of learning in ELA and 50% in math, and the effect is likely more significant for traditionally underserved students. To address the needs of those most affected by school closures, education leaders must consider the unique challenges and assets of these students and their families. For example, leaders must figure out how to ensure all students have educational resources. Schools with limited funds to purchase student devices can provide students with printed materials. This in turn can support homeless students who may not have a reliable source of power to charge devices and students with disabilities preventing extended computer use. Continue reading