It’s been more than 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education established educational equity as a right in our democracy. Yet that right is still far from reality for America’s low-income students and students of color. One reason for this is that they are taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, inexperienced and out-of-field teachers.
This inequitable access to excellent educators was the impetus for the U.S. Department of Education (USED) Excellent Educators for All initiative, launched by then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in July 2013. The initiative required all states to develop plans to ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught at disproportionate rates by inexperienced, out-of-field and/or unqualified teachers and created the Equitable Access Support Network (EASN) to support states’ efforts. As previously discussed on this blog, Education First was proud to support this work.
One aspect of this effort we supported was the development of state equity labs. Equity labs are state-led convenings of district leaders and stakeholders designed to give state educational agency staff the opportunity to share the purpose of state equity plans, collect feedback on state-level strategies, facilitate district-level equity planning and provide districts access to critical friends and a network of colleagues for planning and implementation.
To help states implement their own equity labs, the EASN developed Connecting the Dots: A Toolkit for Designing and Leading Equity Labs. The Toolkit’s content is based largely on the experiences of four states—Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio—that have conducted their own equity labs. It includes summaries of the four states’ labs; a detailed nine-step approach to designing, implementing and debriefing an equity lab; and concrete tools and artifacts, including sample measures for equity lab outcomes, a sample work plan and debrief session tool and sample surveys to get participant feedback and plan next steps.
Reactions to the equity labs have been positive. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports that its first lab inspired “candid conversations about the lack of educationally equitable conditions” in the schools and classrooms that participants represented.
It is our hope that the toolkit will help more states and school districts do the same as they complete and revise their ESSA plans. Honest conversations about race, socioeconomics and equity are difficult. In fact, our own organization is having them now, as we strive to better serve our clients as they work to close equity gaps. We acknowledge that to close these gaps, those of us who work in education must address issues of race, inclusion, diversity, and equity within our own organizations and as a part of the services we deliver to or in support of schools.
This is more important than ever, as the number of students living in poverty grows and segregation of students by race is persistent at best and growing at worst. We are a long way from the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education, but states – together with districts – have an opportunity to be agents of change.