This post is by Bryant Best, who works for the Council of Chief State School Officers. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at educator_x.
The day after the 2016 Presidential Election, my Facebook newsfeed was lit. It seemed like just about everyone I knew was either debating their political opinions or reposting articles shared by mainstream (and some not so mainstream) media outlets. And while many of the views shared were extreme but expected, one article on Vox.com really caught me by surprise. The article used survey data to show some students of color were “terrified” that they or members of their families might be deported or enslaved under a Trump administration. Reading this article broke my heart. I could not bear to imagine what it must be like for children to feel like that. To hurry home from school and have a huge wave of relief wash over you simply because no one in your family was harassed, detained or deported that day. To lose joy in playing your favorite sports because opposing crowds have rejected the traditional chant of “Go Team!” in favor of weaponized rhetoric like “Go back!” For fear to dictate your life. That is far too heavy a burden for a child to bear.
Today’s students need educational equity now more than ever. They need people who are able and willing to do the hard work of building bridges across communities, creating effective and sustainable policy solutions that address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and ensuring that all children receive comprehensive socioemotional services, rigorous learning experiences, and meaningful career preparation. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is committed to advancing educational equity through its partnerships with Chiefs and state education agencies across the country. In its recent publication “Leading for Equity,” CCSSO offers 10 different ways leaders of public education systems can take a stand for educational equity, including communicating a strong vision for what equity looks like and how it will be measured, being more intentional in recruiting and retaining diverse and culturally responsive educators (principals included), and finding ways to ensure that all families have access to high-quality educational options that fit the needs of the community.
CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network is currently leading a small group of states toward a set of policy recommendations and actions that states can take to leverage personalized learning on behalf of educational equity. One of those states, California, is working extremely hard on refining its system of “whole child support.” Recently I had the opportunity to see this in action at schools in Napa and Oakland, California. The Napa schools, Napa Junction Elementary and New Tech High, are part of the New Tech Network, a partnership originally fostered between schools and the local business community in an attempt to serve the whole child and prepare him/her for college and career. The Oakland Schools, Met West and Oakland International, are a part of the Big Picture LearningNetwork and Internationals Network for Public Schools, respectively. Both schools are exceptionally skilled in addressing the needs of students from low-income families, students of color, students classified as English Language Learners, and students from immigrant families.
What was common across all four of these schools was an environment where every student felt affirmed and included, had multiple opportunities to express themselves in their work, and a laser focus on student mastery of rigorous core academic content, effective critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills, and other aspects of what education policy experts call “deeper learning.” All of these schools took on a student-centered approach to learning. And although Napa and Oakland are very different, it was clear that what centered the students in both communities was the pursuit of justice. It gave me so much hope to realize that there are culturally responsive educators out here who are teaching children how to pursue justice. That is the type of public education that will not just transform entire communities, but the country.
I was amazed by New Tech’s elementary students’ ability to describe the nature of the ecosystem, the effects of human activity, and how we can reduce our impact on the environment. I was inspired by MetWest High’s student-led conference on Islamophobia, gender inequality, and police brutality. I was encouraged by Oakland International’s commitment to helping immigrant students explore and connect with their own identity and culture in addition to teaching them the English language and American traditions. The more I observed these educators share their passion for justice with their students, the more I became convinced that educational equity is not just a lofty ideal, but a likely reality.
Yes, you read that right. I believe that we are not that far off from a future where all students are given the structures and support they need to excel academically, develop key socioemotional skills, and prosper in a public, personalized education system. Of course, we should always stay vigilant in making sure our efforts to prepare all children for meaningful careers do not inadvertently exacerbate inequality. But we will continue to make steady progress so long as educators, parents, principals, and policymakers continue to work together and always commit to doing what’s right for kids. And once we have a just and equitable education system, just imagine what forms of justice may follow?
Photo by Bryant Best. Taken with permission from Instagram profile @educator_x.