The Future of Equity in K–12 Education

By Barry Eitel

Income inequality in the United States has grown over the past 30 years by almost every metric. Today, the average income of the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans is almost nine times as much as that of the bottom 90 percent. K–12 education has long been touted as a great equalizer, although the reality of this charge is far more complex than the philosophy behind it.

However, with inequality growing exponentially, now is a crucial time for superintendents and educators to focus on improving equity in our schools. Elementary and secondary education can still be an equalizing force in the digital era, and with new strategies that innovate homework and strengthen relations with larger communities, shareholders have markedly improved equity in their districts. Not only do these strategies help children succeed in school, but they are important for American society to succeed as a whole.

At the AASA The School Superintendents Association National Conference on Education on March 2 to 4, 2017, in New Orleans, experts from around the nation will share information relating to how they championed equity in their schools, districts and wider communities. Two thought-leader sessions at the conference will discuss some of the most significant and innovative strategies for achieving equity in K–12 education.

Closing the Homework Gap

Roughly 5 million of the 29 million American households with school-age children don’t have broadband internet access, according to Federal Communications Commission chief Jessica Rosenworcel, and about 70 percent of teachers today assign homework that requires the web. This is a massive gap, and the figures illustrate how lower-income students could be left behind.

At the AASA National Conference on Education session “Innovative Strategies to Close the Homework Gap,” three superintendents from around the country—Darryl Adams (Coachella Valley, California), Devin Vodicka (Vista, California) and Pam Moran (Albemarle County, Virginia)—will reveal how they have worked to improve internet access and digital equity in their districts and communities. The discussion will be moderated by Keith Krueger, chief executive of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a large nonprofit aimed at helping educational leaders leverage technology to foment engaging learning environments.

Krueger and CoSN strongly believe community support is necessary to achieve digital equity, which is sometimes also called digital inclusion. “While digital equity is not easy to address, it can be solved by working with local and business leaders, as well as the community at large,” Krueger wrote in a post this year for AASA that outlined some specific steps districts can take, including convincing mayors to commit to bringing broadband internet to an entire community and taking advantage of internet-access initiatives launched by telecommunications giants like Google.

It Takes a Village…

Policymakers are quickly learning that digital equity cannot be achieved by school districts alone. Support from parents and community members in general is necessary in elementary and secondary education, especially when it comes to improving internet access for all of a district’s students.

At the AASA National Conference on Education “Community Schools: Cultivating Opportunity, Equity and Agency” session, several superintendents will discuss how they engaged their communities, forming partnerships with many different fields. Panelists will talk about their approaches and the results they now see within their districts, families and communities since embracing a strategy that strengthened the connection between the community and the school district.

Together, they are transforming student trajectories, closing opportunity gaps and getting more graduates across the finish line, graduates who are now more prepared for college and careers. Not only are they seeing statistical results, these superintendents are seeding hope and opportunity, increasing equity and building agency in families.

The session’s three superintendent thought leaders—Steven Webb (Vancouver, Washington), Teresa Weatherall Neal (Austin, Texas) and Paul Cruz (Grand Rapids, Michigan)—represent a trio of cities that range in size and demographic makeup. Attendees will leave with actionable takeaways they can implement in their own districts, no matter the size.