Equity in 2018

By Julianne Nava

NEA's Donna Harris-Aikens and LFA's Rich Long discuss what equity means in 2018, as well as how schools and communities can advance it.

Last week, the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education released the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, producing two reports highlighting major findings related to school climate and safety and access to STEM courses. The findings are troubling.

The data show that, for example, black students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended, expelled and referred to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests than their peers. They also show that fewer students of color take high-level math and science courses compared to their peers—and that schools serving high proportions of these populations are less likely to offer such courses.

The same day that data was released, Learning First Alliance Executive Director Richard Long sat down with Donna Harris-Aikens, Director of the Education Policy and Practice Department at the National Education Association, for a conversation about equity in 2018. Equity is one of six critical elements identified in LFA’s ground-breaking compendium, The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work.

To Harris-Aikens, equity means meeting the needs of individual students—“making sure all kids have the opportunity to not only be in school and to learn but to thrive and excel.” Attaining it requires a hard look at instruction, family and community engagement, the complement of staff available and school leadership, as well as a host of other factors that play a role in positioning an individual child, a group of children or an entire student body for success. There is also a question of resources—not just the money that goes into a school, but what that money pays for.

There are public schools across the country where all students are thriving and prepared for lifelong learning. As Harris-Aikens points out, we know what works, and we know what students need. As she said:

“It is not a question of what, it's a question of when. Or if, even. If we are going to make the decision as a country that we care about all students being prepared for lifelong learning, for postsecondary opportunities. When are we going to resource public schools the way they need to be resourced, and organize public schools the way they need to be organized, and fully staff public schools the way they need to be fully staffed, in order to make sure students have what they need? And that's a big when, and that's a big if.”

Watch the conversation below, or download the transcript. Need closed captions? The YouTube version has them.

 

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LFA Executive Director Rich Long and NEA Director of Education Policy and Practice Donna Harris-Aikens in the middle of their conversation

"Equity means making sure all kids have the opportunity to not only be in school and to learn but to thrive and excel."

- Donna Harris-Aikens