The events of the past month have sparked conversations about race, institutional bias, and how to reckon with our nation’s past to create a better future. Those conversations have raised questions about equity, diversity, and inclusion.
One question of utmost importance to Texas trustees is “How do we help ensure fairness and equity for every student to help maximize their learning while attending schools in our district?”
We all know that to be successful, we need to begin with the end in mind. The end includes equity in the opportunities and outcomes of all students in your district.
Assess your situation
The promise of Texas public education should be that ZIP code, skin color, family background, and economic status are not a predictor of a student’s success. While each of our students comes from different circumstances, this shouldn’t limit our systems or our expectations for ensuring that every student is fully equipped for their life after high school.
As a locally elected school board member, you’re key to making this a reality. Equity begins in the board room, and equity in learning and educational attainment is necessary for every student’s lifelong success.
It’s essential to understand the demographics of your district—both students and staff. Looking at the data can help your board identify trends in your district and community. It can help you ask informed questions about achievement patterns:
- Where do different racial and ethnic students live in our community?
- What are the housing patterns and the history of these housing patterns?
- Which schools do these students attend?
- Which students participate in which programs?
- What is the racial make-up of various classes?
- Who is being identified for special education?
- Who participates in extracurricular activities and clubs?
- What are the attendance patterns and graduation rates for different groups?
- Which students are being disciplined most, in what ways, and why?
The Intercultural Development Association recommends that school boards answer the following questions to begin assessing equity in serving all students:
- How does this practice impact all learners?
- What policies, resources, and other supports are needed to create equitability across different populations?
- What might create a negative or adverse impact on any identifiable population?
- How might that adverse impact be avoided?
- What precautions should we take as we move forward?
- How do we monitor our work to ensure comparable high outcomes for all students?
Develop a plan with a clear vision
You have the tools to achieve more equitable outcomes. It begins with a clear vision for success that includes the success of each child. It causes us to develop—with input from the superintendent—clear, specific, and disaggregated goals for student performance.
In fact, the law now requires that we do this. While the governor provided a waiver of a few months for adopting HB 3 goals and plans, disaggregating data as a board and adopting specific goals for each of our student groups is still an essential governance practice and opportunity.
Monitor your progress
Having a compelling vision for each student’s success and creating clear, specific goals for attaining that vision is a beginning. If we’re going to be successful, we must monitor our progress along the way. Every single trustee in Texas needs to be able to answer three specific questions about equity in their district:
- How are the various diverse student groups doing in our district?
- What are we doing to improve the learning of these different groups?
- How will we know we are making progress and reaching our goals?
Answering those questions accurately and with conviction requires us to use one of the most powerful tools in our toolkit: The power of the question. These are not close-ended gotcha questions, but rather open-ended curious questions.
Ask the superintendent how diverse student populations are doing in the district. The answer should inspire additional curious questions about specific groups:
- How are the boys doing?
- How are the girls doing?
- How are the third graders at Eastside elementary doing this year?
- What percentage of our ESL students were kindergarten ready this year?
- How are our eighth-grade algebra students doing this year?
- What percentage of African American and Hispanic students are taking AP classes this year?
- How does this compare to other students and what were our numbers last year?
These questions are not intended to all be asked in one setting, but they are examples of the types of questions that have power—the power to shine light, the power to aid understanding, the power to guide action, the power to hold systems accountable.
Continuously refine your plans
Continue to ask good questions. They help us understand where we are and what we need to do to get where we want to go. For the governance team, the discussion that comes from good, informed questions can help us thoughtfully adjust our governance practices.
How diverse student populations are doing and what we are doing to support their improved learning should inform every decision your board makes and touch every aspect of governing:
- Board agendas
- Monitoring plans
- Community engagement
- Budgeting priorities
- School boundaries
- Superintendent evaluation
This should be an important part of every governance discussion, deliberation, and decision making. To do anything else would be irresponsible. And this must be an ongoing part of the process.
Question the status quo to move forward
Question the status quo and work together with administrators to improve student success for every child. This starts with including a strong commitment to equity reflected in your district vision statement and goals. It could include a local equity policy that codifies values and commitment to equitable outcomes. It might involve self-reflection or assessment of programs, practices, and outcomes.
TASB is here to serve you and help you meet the needs of your students. We are actively working on new resources and services to assist districts that want to focus more attention on equity in student outcomes. This includes a collaborative approach from Legal Services, Policy Service, HR Services, Board Development Services, and other areas of TASB.
Free Webinar: A Conversation about Educational Equity
Understanding equity in education starts with understanding the challenges and barriers individual students and populations of students face. Working toward education equity requires providing additional supports to help them overcome those barriers.
Where do boards start to ensure that every child has equal opportunity for success?
Listen in on a conversation about how school boards can begin the work of improving educational equity with TASB Board Development Services Consultant Orin Moore, equity consultant with the National Association of School Boards Mary Fertakis, and Arizona School Boards Association Board Support and Training Specialist Nikki Whaley.
Resources for additional reading
If you’re ready to dig deeper in understanding equity, these websites are a great place to start.
This reading list of books is another great resource for understanding how our current education system was built, how far we’ve come, and how much further we still have to go.