Q: How do you define equity in public education?
A: Educational equity means that every student has access to a quality education that prepares them for a meaningful career, postsecondary learning, and engaged citizenship in our country and in the world. This is what every child deserves regardless of his or her race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family income, or zip code.
I have worked in the education field for over twenty years, as a teacher, a state board of education member, a standards and assessment expert, a leader of one of the two state testing consortia (PARCC), and now as a CEO of a non-profit that supports educators.
I am a firm believer that state policy levers— e.g., standards, assessment, and accountability — matter and can help level the playing field for students. The state framework is critical for ensuring that a state’s education system expects the same rigor of all students, measures the accomplishments of all students and schools, and holds adults in the system accountable for the progress and well-being of the kids entrusted to them. Those levers are key foundation for an equitable system, but they are not sufficient. Students also must have access to a challenging, content-rich curriculum and meaningful coursework that prepares them for what comes next. And every student deserves a well-prepared, effective teacher who can put them on a path to success. These are the most important drivers of equity.
Q: What policy mechanisms relating to ESSA would you identify as having the most potential to create a more equitable education system?
A: I have worked in the standards and assessment space for nearly two decades, so I am a believer in the importance of those policy mechanisms to help drive equity within and across states. Basic fairness requires clear, rigorous expectations for all students (not just some), assessments that measure progress towards those goals in a transparent way (no gotchas), and public reporting of results (so there are no secrets). ESSA maintains those important pillars.
But as important as they are, standards and tests don’t teach students. Teachers do. We need systems that build educator and school capacity to deliver high-quality, content-rich instruction that sets all students up for success. This is important for all students, but most important for underserved populations who have the most to lose when those elements are absent. Traditionally, Title II has been the federal mechanism for supporting the preparation, training, recruitment, and retention of high-quality teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders. That funding is now in question at exactly the moment when states have the opportunity to lean in on what works and eliminate what doesn’t. I am hopeful that full funding is restored, followed by careful review by states and districts of the quality and effectiveness of current programs.
Q: Based on your experience working with state leaders and policymakers, what has been the most common question or challenge states are grappling with as it relates to ESSA and equity?
A: A key priority for many states is to hold the line on hard-won progress. Over the last seven years there has been a sea of change in state policy with rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments, stronger accountability systems that value preparation over seat time, and transparency around reporting results. This was accompanied by political pushback, which in some cases has created even more change and churn. Now, with ESSA offering states a chance to again reset the table, it will be important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The good news is that state leaders are able to build on the foundation that has been laid, and focus now on the how rather than the what. With the pillars of standards and assessments underneath them, savvy states and districts will implement competency-based systems, enable personalized learning approaches, and seek flexibility on assessments. However, innovation cannot come at the expense of the goals of quality or rigor; we must hold firm to high expectations for all students and educators—and ensure they have quality resources to support their success. Never has this been more important, given the flexibility offered through ESSA as well as through new technologies that enable personalized classrooms and competency-based policies to optimize students’ time in schools.
Of course, with flexibility and personalization, a focus on ensuring quality – of curriculum, of instruction, of assessment, of communications – will be that much more important. In addition, new accountability approaches will be needed that hold firm on the goals while providing space for innovation.
Q: What work does your organization have coming up (or recently completed) in this area?
A: We launched CenterPoint Education Solutions to help states and districts maintain quality and rigor as they take the next step towards building aligned systems that put all students on a path to success. We partner with states, districts, schools, and leading education organizations to develop and implement innovative resources in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional learning. This includes building educator capacity to deliver standards-based instruction from kindergarten through postsecondary education; aligning curriculum and assessment materials with college- and career-ready standards; developing customized short cycle assessments to minimize testing and maximize actionable data for teachers; supporting interpretation and use of data for instructional planning; and developing instructional strategies on priority topics for districts and schools. We are excited about the opportunity to continue to work with educators to help them succeed.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published as a blog post by the Hunt Institute and has been republished with permission.