Building Equitable Learning Environments Project - Equity through Crew


Six EL Education network schools engaged in a 3-year action research project examining how crew can be an engine for equity. This project, funded by the Raikes Foundation, employed a mixed methods continuous improvement approach to identifying how and under what conditions crew best supports all students’ sense of belonging in school, identity formation, and habits of character.  

The Study:

In 2016, EL Education joined a network of organizations working to close opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and low socio-economic backgrounds to launch the Building Equitable Learning Environments (BELE) project, funded by the Raikes Foundation.

For its part in the project, EL Education is focused on improving students’ sense of belonging: the perception of having a rightful place in an academic setting and belonging in a community of learners. Six schools across the country tackled this question through a mixed methods, continuous improvement approach led by teacher teams and supported by a core EL Education research team.

First, teacher teams distributed and analyzed student survey data from an instrument co-developed with Project for Educational Research that Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University on belonging, respect, trust, and other crew experiences (including examining data by race and gender).  After analyzing student data, teacher teams conducted a root cause analysis, asking:

What are the conditions of our system or structures that diminish the sense of belonging and a positive experience of Crew?

How might these conditions impact particular groups of students more than others?  

What key changes can we make to improve students’ belonging?

In collaboration with the EL Education research team and research partner University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, teachers reviewed focus group data with students that probed how students think about belonging and what kinds of factors influence their willingness to participate in Crew or build relationships with others in their Crew. Some school teams also shared portions of the survey data with their students, so that students could conduct their own root cause analysis into why some students may experience a greater sense of belonging than others, and pitch their own change ideas.

Teacher teams then used this data to launch their Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles. These cycles involved narrowing their improvement focus based on the survey data and root cause analysis, testing their change ideas, and regularly measuring progress and impact. Their change ideas spanned from distributing professional development on Crew practices, to experimenting with student-led crews, to restructuring crews based on student feedback.

School teams also collaborated with a partner school, and met twice a year on-site (once at each school) to observe how crews happen in other schools, engage in consultancies, and exchange ideas. At the end of each year, all six schools came together to share their findings, share crew practices, and collaborate on shared products for scaling ideas and practices to the larger network.

Their findings highlighted the importance of engaging students throughout the change process, from root cause identification to change ideation and data analysis, as well as the critical roles school leadership and structures play in emphasizing the purpose and supports for crew. For more information on lessons learned through this project, check out the three-part blog series on EdWeek.


At the culmination of this project, teams are currently working on several projects to scale learning to the broader network: a set of crew lessons and resources to be included in our resource library; a set of Equity in Crew PD; a Master Class on leading Crew with students for National Conference 2019; and a set of guidance documents for school leaders as they structure their crews.