Governance brief focuses on the need for boards to support equity-based decisions

The new year presents a good opportunity for governing boards to reflect on recent achievements as well as unfinished work that districts and county offices of education have ahead of them to ensure that all students have access to an education that prepares them for college, career and life success. To support board members in this journey, CSBA has produced a new governance brief, “Educational Equity: The Need for Boards to Support Equity-Based Decisions.”

The brief, authored by CSBA Equity Network consultant Nicole Anderson, focuses on the urgent need for equity in both the state’s and nation’s education systems and the important role that board members have in addressing persistent opportunity gaps. Governance teams can also use the resource to support actions that can remove persistent barriers to opportunity. The brief also offers additional key questions for board members to ask, along with recommendations for next steps, such as developing an equity definition.

The following highlights some of the key takeaways from the resource, along with tips on how board members can develop their equity focus.

The roots of inequity in the U.S. education system

The brief outlines the history of public education in the United States, including the intent from inception that it is acceptable for some students to have greater opportunities than others. This was, in fact, a foundational idea, as evidenced in 1779 when Thomas Jefferson proposed a two-tier educational system with different tracks, in his words, for “the laboring and the learned.” Vestiges of this view permeate our current system.

Such examples include the excessive suspensions and lack of access to Advanced Placement/honors courses and courses meeting A-G requirements for students of color and students in poverty. It is also evidenced by the fact that more than half of Latino (56 percent) and nearly half of African American students (49 percent) attend schools where at least 75 percent of students are eligible for the free or reduced-priced meals program (the most common barometer for measuring poverty among student groups), in contrast to just 12 percent of white students.

Board members can develop their equity focus by understanding the history of the U.S. education system and the history of their community.

Opportunity gaps highlight the urgent need for action

The urgency and need for action are further highlighted by examples of numerous opportunity gaps among California students. CSBA’s 2017 report, Meeting California’s Challenge: Key Ingredients for Student Success, presented eight key factors for student success that would be available in an education system with Full and Fair FundingSM. The same report documented gaps in opportunities for low-income students and students of color that include a lack of access to a rigorous and relevant curriculum, early learning services, and schools with 21st-century infrastructure and technology.

These opportunity gaps have resulted in achievement gaps in California, where, for example, half as many economically disadvantaged students meet or exceed grade-level standards in math when compared to their wealthier peers. Board members can develop their equity focus by understanding the opportunity gaps in their district and schools, and how these impact student achievement by race, poverty, disability, gender, language and other factors.

Seizing the current opportunity

There is a moral imperative to close educational gaps in a system in which some student groups have not been served well since the inception of schooling. Moreover, two changes that have taken place in California public schools within the past 10 years can help local educational agencies think differently about how to provide a quality education for all students.

These major changes are 1) a shift to a funding formula and accountability system focused on student need and local empowerment and 2) shifts toward an assets-based philosophy and a focus on cultural relevance, where the backgrounds of students are viewed as an asset to the education of all students and not a deficit. While these ideas and shifts are not new, they provide an opportunity for school district and county office boards to implement sustainable change tailored to local community needs.

The need for equity-driven school boards

CSBA’s equity-focused work continues with the knowledge that the decisions and actions made by local governance teams have the power to transform the lives of students, families and communities. Therefore, it is critical that board members understand their role in relation to the intersection between educational policy, leadership and equity. To support board members in this endeavor, CSBA provides resources such as this brief, and encourages boards to review policies with an equity lens and learn about what other districts and county offices of education are doing to close opportunity gaps.

A good place to start is by learning about the winners of CSBA’s Golden Bell Awards, which include award-winning programs focused on areas such as Equity and Access, Special Education and Parental/Community Engagement.