An Important New Resource Places Equity Front and Center of Education Policy and Practice

Equity in EducationConfession: I have a soft spot for reports on educational equity that prominently place a photo of happy, confident elementary-school aged children on the cover and conclude with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And when the content between those two pages has been created by well-respected educational organizations, informed by reams of data and research, and vetted by education experts nationwide? Well, that’s a report I’m going to write about and encourage you to read.

Earlier this month, The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released Leading for Equity: Opportunities for State Education Chiefs, which features 10 “commitments” designed to guide the important work of state education chiefs in achieving educational equity in their states:

  1. Prioritize equity: Set and communicate equity vision and targets.
  2. Start from within: Focus on the State Education Agency.
  3. Measure what matters: Create accountability for equity.
  4. Go local: Engage Local Education Agencies and provide tailored and differentiated support.
  5. Follow the money: Allocate resources to achieve fiscal equity.
  6. Start early: Invest in the youngest learners.
  7. Engage more deeply: Monitor equitable implementation of standards and assessments.
  8. Value people: Focus on teachers and leaders.
  9. Improve conditions for learning: Focus on school culture, climate, and social-emotional development.
  10. Empower student options: Ensure families have access to high quality educational options that align to community needs.

State education chiefs, district leaders, equity advocates, researchers, and teachers all weighed in on this Leading for Equity report whose publication date coincided with the end of Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers’ term as CCSSO board president. Evers, in a news release about the report, said that leaders of state education agencies “have a moral imperative to help remove any barriers that stand in the way of a student’s success.

“Kids of color, kids with disabilities, those learning English, and those from economic disadvantage face challenges that their peers do not,” he said. “And unfortunately, some of those challenges are a result of policies and practices we have influence or control over.”

The timing of the Leading for Equity report is significant because it coincides with greater state control being granted under the 2016 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which governs K-12 education policy nationwide. In some ways, the movement to greater federal involvement in education was an attempt to improve equity for children across all 50 states in the face of wildly different expectations, requirements, and outcomes from state to state. Now that much of the control is moving back to states, we must not lose sight of the moral imperative to place equity at the center of our decision making when it comes to education policy and practice.

It is also notable that the recommendations for greater equity specifically include emphasis on school climate and culture as well as social and emotional learning. Our understanding of the importance of these conditions for learning has only grown since the pendulum swung to an over emphasis on academic-only interventions. The school-to-prison pipeline and its disproportionate impact on racial minorities and children with disabilities flies in the face of an equity-based system and must be eradicated to close the learning opportunity gaps (chasms?) in far too many states.

One last important thing about the Leading for Equity report is its appendix which is chock-full of additional research, tools, and resources to support each of these equity commitments. (Nothing’s worse, IMHO, than a report that advocates what should be done without backing up its recommendation with more information on how it can be done.)

Happy reading! With whom can you share a copy of Leading for Equity? Wouldn’t it be great if we all “conspired” to place equity at the center of our educational decision making? Our work just became a bit easier to do with this report and its resources.

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