States Focus on Equitable Education Systems (Winter 2018-2019)

How can states ensure that all students have access to equitable education systems? What do the data show regarding challenges faced in specific states? What strategies are recommended for improving equity for underserved students, such as English learners (ELs), students with disabilities, students of color, and others? Over 100 educators, leaders, and policymakers convened to address these questions and explore other relevant topics during the SECC Equity Summit–Accountable Leadership: Opportunities for Equitable Systems. The Southeast Comprehensive (SECC) at American Institutes for Research (AIR) hosted the regional summit November 28–29, 2018, in Jackson, Mississippi.

 To help participants understand the historical context of educational, economic, and civic inequities, several pre-summit activities were offered November 25–28: the Civil Rights Learning Journey (from Jackson, Mississippi, to Birmingham Alabama); a tour of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians community; a historical tour of Jackson State University; and a visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. For the Civil Rights Learning Journey, 10 equity champions—including an instructional review coach, a recruiter, and a director of secondary schools—participated and shared their experiences via video interviews. Equity champions are state education agency (SEA) personnel nominated by agency leadership to lead the post-summit equity work and advance equity within their states.

National collaborators panel sessionSummit representation included experts from preK–20 education systems as well as from organizations that support those systems: Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District, Meridian Public School District, Mississippi Department of Education, AIR, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Education Trust (EdTrust), National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), New Orleans Youth Alliance, and RMC Research Corporation. The panel session members pictured are national collaborators representing NCSL, NASBE, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, EdTrust, and CCSSO. The summit included plenary, work, and state team sessions, that provided key information and data on challenges impacting equity as well as strategies for addressing them. Equity teams from Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Michigan began work on their draft equity plans, which they are continuing to develop with ongoing assistance from SECC. 

The Day 1 plenary speaker, James H. Johnson, Ph.D., William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who also facilitated the national collaborators panel, discussed significant demographic trends that will change America’s ability to compete on a global scale (view presentation):

  • Population growth in the South has increased from 27% in 1910 to 55% in 2017.

  • The population is becoming browner (increasing numbers of non-White immigrants and foreign-born individuals; rising birthrates of Blacks, Hispanics, and other racial groups).

  • Intermarriage, individuals marrying someone of a different race/ethnicity, is increasing.

  • Longevity, declining fertility, and the aging of Baby Boomers have contributed to the graying of the population.

  • The workforce is now multigenerational, including workers of various ages from 15–93.

  • Fewer males than females are participating in the workforce, enrolling in college, and completing college.

  • The percentage of non-White students living in geographically disadvantaged areas is increasing.

Dr. Johnson emphasized that the United States must take steps to embrace diversity and address the education, workforce, and development challenges associated with the above demographic trends to remain economically viable.

During Day 1 general and concurrent sessions, experts addressed topics such as examining bias and privilege, eliminating deficit ideology and language, identifying and dismantling drivers of gaps and segregation, championing strategies to support and advance cultural and linguistic competence, meeting the needs of ELs, and strengthening American Indian education. To wrap up the day, state teams reviewed their Every Student Succeeds Act plans and assessed their equity-related accomplishments, gaps, and challenges. 

One of the highlights of Day 2 was the plenary session featuring Roscoe Jones, Sr., a veteran civil rights activist and founder of Freedom64, who also served as a facilitator for the Civil Rights Learning Journey. His activism began as a teenager after joining the student arm of the NAACP in Mississippi. Jones recounted working with other students to plan marches and other civil rights actions. He also shared that in 1964 he had planned to join activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney in protests in Alabama and Mississippi but changed plans at the last minute to honor a commitment. While returning from a trip to Philadelphia, Mississippi, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were killed by the Ku Klux Klan. Today, Jones, continues his work as a “foot soldier” by speaking to various groups about the need to keep fighting for civil rights and justice. “The sessions were powerful,” said one participant. “Mr. Roscoe’s words were both humbling and inspiring. The Equity in Action session really forced me to think about the changes that CAN be made!!!”

State team planning sessionAdditional sessions on Day 2 focused on disparities in discipline, addressing inequities through talent management, family-community and student success, equitable funding, geographic information system mapping, an equity in action exemplar in a school district, and a state team planning session. One state team member said, “State planning was really useful for us. We have begun a planning process that will better our state.” Pictured is Tammie Causey-Konaté, Ph.D., SECC deputy director and equity summit co-lead (center), collaborating during a state team planning session.

In January, SECC provided state team participants with a complimentary copy of the recently published AIR book, Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students, as a special thank you. The center also disseminated the first of the national collaborators’ contributions—a CCSSO report titled A Vision and Guidance for a Diverse and Learner-Ready Teacher Workforce—to all summit attendees following the event. In addition, SECC will facilitate post-summit state meetings in support of the development and initial implementation of their equity plans and to assist several states with planning their own equity-related convenings.

Reflecting on the overall event, one summit participant said, “Awesome learning experience—very eye-opening concerning strategies, resources, and data to assist SEAs in making sure all students get an equitable education.” To learn more about SECC equity work, visit Equity Summit or our community of practice, Equity Dialogues: Opportunities to Improve Outcomes for Students.

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The SECC Times