It’s the million-dollar question in schools across the country: What are the most effective ways to correct inequities that persist in our schools? The urgency is certainly clear: The latest in a string of research showing stark educational inequities in America’s schools, the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that wide gaps persist in reading and math proficiency between white students and students of color.
At the NYC Leadership Academy, we believe in meeting districts where they are, supporting them in having the hard conversations about the existence and impact of personal and systemic racism on students, and then helping them develop strategies for making and maintaining change that will work for their communities.
As districts across the country increasingly undertake this work, it is critical that we take time to learn from one another about what’s working, what isn’t, and why. I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a learning experience last week at Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From forum (which the Leadership Academy proudly sponsored). The convening brought together exceptional district leaders from across the country to share how their districts are working toward achieving educational equity. In every story, we heard about innovative approaches that took some risk and grew out of their communities, informed by local context and need.
Take San Antonio, Texas. In one of the most segregated cities in the country, Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury has been leading an effort to integrate schools, which research has found has academic and social benefits for all children. He’s changed the way the district defines poverty – using census tract income data, which offers a clearer picture of poverty than Free and Reduced-Price Lunch data – and has created a magnet school system that admits students through weighted lotteries. He is trying to design schools for equity by reserving a balanced portion of seats for low-income and higher-income students at these schools. We can all learn from San Antonio as it works through challenges like making sure that all students have equitable opportunities to succeed inside the schools of choice, and that the needs of neighborhood schools are also being met.
In Denver, Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova has dedicated her career to removing barriers for students who are learning English as a second language, who make up one-third of the city’s student body. She ensures that every teacher, whether novice or veteran, gets the ongoing professional learning opportunities they need to support English learners, including how to support their families. And Chicago CEO Janice Jackson, who grew up in Chicago public schools, is prioritizing leadership development support for building leaders at every level of the school system: Principals receive intensive training and coaching and serve as policy advisors, helping to make important decisions for the district. Engaging principals to take ownership for district policies and practices has helped reduce principal turnover.
While leading for equity must be context specific, there is so much we can learn from each other and apply to our own communities. We will continue to share with you our own experiences, successes, and challenges, and would love to hear yours, too.