Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access
Educational equity means ensuring that every student has access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education — no matter their background or zip code.
Equity in education is more than a lofty goal. It’s an attainable one, but one that takes leadership, commitment and the ability to pull diverse groups together. State education agencies are well situated to do this work, and in my role, I have seen them take the lead in doing so.
As the chief equity officer at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which is an organization of public officials who head K-12 education departments in states, I recognize we in the education community have much work ahead. Many people have experienced inequity in education for generations.
America’s state school chiefs in 2017 united around 10 Leading for Equity commitments with the goal of making sure every student has access to an education that will prepare them for postsecondary opportunities.
At CCSSO, this focus led to the creation of my position in 2018 so the organization can better support state education leaders in their work. We continue to do the work internally to embed diversity, equity and inclusion in our policies and processes that yield an impact in our work with states.
At the state level, it’s meant internal changes and targeted programming, such as state educational agencies providing implicit bias training to employees in the Vermont Agency of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Another example is in the Oregon Department of Education, where the department works directly to support American Indian/Alaska Native students across the state through Tribal Attendance Promising Practices family advocates. Similarly, in Kansas, the Kansas State Department of Education provides technical support to districts when they develop improvement strategies for under-performing schools.
In other ways, state education agencies are also supporting districts and schools. This is through efforts such as allocating resources in ways that achieve fiscal equity and creating accountability systems with equity front and center. Annie Holmes is the chief equity officer at the Council of Chief State School Officers. She leads the Council’s internal efforts to achieve its goal of becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization and support chiefs to deliver on equity commitments.
In Alabama, for example, the education department’s Office of School Improvement provides support to schools with identified needs to develop a service plan – and checks back with them regularly. In Michigan, over $3 million in programming is devoted to encouraging students in all corners of the state to go into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.
We know that educational equity takes thoughtful planning and a willingness to continuously evaluate decisions we make in schools. It’s a matter of using an equity lens to determine how every decision affects underrepresented and marginalized communities across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation and family income.
While we still have a way to go to make our schools truly equitable, state chiefs are uniquely positioned to drive this work and we’re proud that the nation’s state education agencies are taking the lead.