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#AskExcelinEd: What are states doing to advance educational equity?

• Liya Amelga

During this #AskExcelinEd series, we will be exploring how states are advancing educational equity to offer students quality learning opportunities. Associate Director of K-12 Reform Liya Amelga kicks off this series by providing a historical overview of educational equity. 

A new report States Leading for Equity: Promising Practices Advancing the Equity Commitments released by the Council for State School Officers (CCSSO) along with The Aspen Institute and America’s Promise, takes a comprehensive look at state efforts to advance equity. The report defines educational equity as every student having “access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background and/ or family income.” The report then highlights the progress some states have made since last year when CCSSO’s members developed by consensus ten commitments for advancing equity in each of their state education systems. (See Leading for Equity: Opportunities for State Education Chiefs.)

Educational equity has been a hot topic for decades. With the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government required states to hold their schools accountable for each subgroup of students reaching grade-level proficiency. The law also prescribed interventions for schools that failed to help any subgroup meet that goal.

In 2015, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) maintained the goal of educational equity. However, it largely shifted authority to states to determine how best to hold schools accountable for subgroup performance and what to do about schools that were not adequately serving those subgroups.

ESSA requires each state to submit an education plan to the U.S. Department of Education outlining the actions it plans to take to improve its system. All 50 states and D.C. have submitted their plans, 34 of which have been approved (as of March 2, 2018). A debate has arisen about whether all these plans meet ESSA’s equity requirements, in particular, identification of schools that need additional support due to extremely low-performing subgroups and how accountability formulas take into account the performance of low-performing subgroups. (See Allyson Klein’s article from EdWeek: Democrats Say DeVos Is Flouting ESSA. She Says No Way. Let’s Unpack the Debate for the perspectives on both sides of the debate.)

ExcelinEd’s view is that states are following the letter of the law. But it is still unknown whether they will fulfill the spirit of the law by meeting the needs of all students, particularly those in traditionally underserved subgroups.

Fortunately, States Leading for Equity gives us a glimpse into how some states are addressing this and what we hopefully expect to see from other states as well. Over the coming weeks we will look at a few “promising practices” in funding, early education, accountability and access to high-quality education options that we have seen states begin to implement as they strive for educational equity. To support that, ExcelinEd stands at the ready to assist states think through policies that ensure equal opportunities for all children.

About the author

Liya Amelga

Liya Amelga serves as the Associate Director of K-12 Reform supporting ExcelinEd’s K-12 reform agenda with a focus on the Every Student Succeeds Act. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as the Special Assistant to the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore City Public Schools drafting and maintaining district policies and overseeing appeals and ethics complaints to the Board. A native of Orange County, California, Liya earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park and her J.D. from the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law. Liya currently resides in Maryland and is based out of ExcelinEd’s D.C. office.