The first-ever Educator Equity Lab was held on March 29th at Jackson State University in Mississippi, where more than one hundred education stakeholders made commitments to ensuring equal access to excellent teachers for the state’s students of color and students from low income backgrounds.
The Lab was part of the Department of Education’s broader efforts to support states in closing persistent nationwide “equity gaps” in access to great teachers. Last fall, then-Secretary Arne Duncan announced the approval of the first batch of state plans submitted under the Excellent Educators for All Initiative. And, he tasked the Department’s Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows with leading a series of labs to help with their implementation.
Access to educational opportunity was firmly established as “a right that must be made available on equal terms” in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board decision that ruled unconstitutional America’s racially segregated, and inherently unequal, public educational institutions. Yet more than 60 years later, the disproportionate rate at which students of color and students from low income backgrounds are taught by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers is one example of how this right continues to be denied to countless students.
These equity gaps perpetuate inequities outside of schoolhouse walls, preventing our nation from upholding its foundational commitments to freedom, justice and equality. Our hope is that the Educator Equity Labs will represent a step toward reversing this unacceptable reality.
As educators and Fellows, we understand the importance of including practitioner voice in decisions that affect teachers and students, and we planned the Lab—in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Education and Partners for Each and Every Child—to maximize educator input in the implementation of Mississippi’s Equity Plan. And, since all Mississippians have a stake in the state’s education system, we also felt it critical to include community leaders, institutions of higher learning, and advocacy groups.
Throughout the day, participants collectively developed action plans to support the implementation of strategies to recruit, support and retain excellent teachers in the districts with the greatest equity gaps. Stakeholders offered their unique perspectives on the problem and employed their particular expertise to develop solutions. Teachers shared their experiences regarding staying at under-resourced schools. Principals discussed efforts to recruit teachers to remote districts. Faculty from schools of education talked about the disconnect between what students learn in their preparation programs and the realities they face when they become teachers. And, advocacy groups provided an understanding of community contexts.
The Equity Lab highlighted the importance of collaboration, as Deputy Secretary James Cole noted in the day’s inspiring closing remarks. Participants developed new relationships and explored new ideas, learning from each other’s viewpoints. Such collaboration empowered the voice of every stakeholder in the room, underscoring the notion that we are all responsible for making all schools great and all teachers excellent so that all children can succeed.
We hope the Equity Lab will prove to be a catalytic force in closing Mississippi’s equity gaps. We know this was just the beginning of a conversation and that much more collaborative work needs to happen–including engaging in difficult conversations about the state’s legacy of racial injustice–in order for significant progress to occur and for all of Mississippi’s children to have the teachers and the education they so deserve.
Several more Equity Labs are scheduled to be held in various parts of the country before the end of the year. Let’s continue this conversation on Twitter!
Meredith Morelle is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and Alicia Pérez-Katz is a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. Find them on Twitter at @meredithmorelle and @bcchs_principal.