Arizona students shared stories of their pathways to learning and over 200 public education, business, non-profit, civic and government leaders discussed ways to provide all students the support they need to achieve at high levels during The Equity Event held in Phoenix on March 10 and 11.
“This is what public education should be about,” said Maria Harper-Marinick, interim chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges. “If we believe we need democracy, then every single kid needs to have access to quality education.”
The focus of the event was on providing leadership strategies and promising practices for closing the opportunity and achievement gaps.
Jacob Chevalier grew up in poverty and his father was incarcerated, yet “through perseverance and the people who cared about me,” graduated in 2015 from Bioscience High School in the Phoenix Union High School District. Now, he helps other students as a coalition co-chair of Stand & Serve, a peer solutions non-profit that unites schools, families and communities to cultivate good and end bad.
“It’s important to think just of how many issues one child can be facing,” Chevalier said.
Video: The 2016 Equity Event by Claire Roney/AZEdNews
Dairany Blanco-Flores said the help she received from the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at Tempe High School in Tempe Union High School District helped her take advanced classes, graduate and enroll in college to become a teacher. Now, she’s paying it forward tutoring students at Laird Elementary School in Tempe Elementary School District.
“Oftentimes, we don’t think we have someone or the resources to guide us to receive a higher education and keep moving forward,” Blanco-Flores said.
Equity is addressing the academic and social needs of all students, recognizing that students learn in different ways at their own pace and staying focused on developmental and academic outcomes, said Dr. Pedro Noguera, professor of education at University of California-Los Angeles, author, former school board member and keynote speaker at The Equity Event.
The only way most people understand equity is the monetary value in their house, but “another meaning of that word equity is value,” said Sunny Dooley, a Diné storyteller and a keynote speaker at The Equity Event.
“The nexus of education equity and Arizona’s future is one of my favorite topics, and it’s also a source of great frustration for me,” said Jennifer Dokes, a longtime member of The Arizona Republic editorial board and founder and owner of JDD Specialties LLC, who moderated a panel on education equity and Arizona’s future. “Rather than ask you to sit back and relax, I’ll ask you to lean forward and get engaged in this conversation that will get rid of any lingering doubts that you have about the importance of this topic – equity in education today – and why it weighs so heavily on Arizona’s future.”
Equity means students have access to services they need, experienced teachers, rigorous curriculum, up-to-date learning resources, and opportunities that prepare them for college, career and life regardless of their family’s income, where they live, their race, ethnicity, legal status, culture or physical or mental ability.
“We have as a nation, for a long time, been focused on how to raise standards, increase accountability, raise achievement, and close achievement gaps, but I don’t think we’ve gotten close yet to figuring out how to actually do it,” Noguera said.
“That’s one of the reasons why these gaps persist and why in so many of our schools, the backgrounds of our kids are driving the outcomes,” Noguera said. “Your background should not determine what you can accomplish in education.”
Noguera’s keynote address “set the tone for the program that guided us through the conversation of equity,” said Channel Powe, Balsz Elementary School District governing board member and chair of the Arizona School Boards Association Black Caucus.
The second-annual Equity Event was hosted by Arizona School Boards Association in collaboration and with sponsorship support from Helios Education Foundation, Minority Student Achievement Network and the Partnership for Breakfast in the Classroom.
Osborn Elementary School District Superintendent Patricia Tate said, “Osborn’s Board and I left with full hearts and several plans for immediate action.”
“ASBA’s Equity Event is about so much more than education, although, of course, that’s reason enough to focus on achievement and opportunity gaps in Arizona,” Dokes said. “Anyone who cares about creating and sustaining healthy communities of citizens equipped with the knowledge and skills to thrive and contribute to society will gain insight and inspiration at the Equity Event.”
Why it’s important
Nearly 70 percent of Arizona jobs are projected to require post-secondary education or training in the next four years, “yet the post-secondary attainment rate today for Arizona is about 37 percent,”said Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, who was part of a panel at The Equity Event.
“Clearly we have an attainment gap, that’s why we at Expect More Arizona believe that a high school diploma alone can no longer be the finish line for any child,” Esau said. “Every child should have the opportunity to complete some form of additional education whether that’s career training or a college degree.”
From an equity standpoint, “that means we need to start preparing all children to meet those very important milestones leading up to high school graduation and be prepared to complete additional education without having to remediate,” Esau said.
Students with minority and low-income backgrounds tend to graduate high school and complete post-secondary education at much lower rates, Esau said.
The primary way “to ensure equity and excellence for all of our students would be to make Arizona the best place in the country to attract and retain a great teacher,” Esau said.
Where we are now
During the event, the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center released its latest report “Arizona Minority Student Progress Report 2016: The Transformation Continues,” which showed while Arizona’s high school graduation rate remains steady at 75 percent, less than 50 percent of high school graduates were considered college ready and eligible to attend Arizona’s universities.
“We certainly have a long way to go,” said Susan Carlson, chair of the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center. “The vision for AMEPAC is that all Arizona students succeed in their education as a result of quality research that shapes policy on critical issues.”
This college-readiness gap is particularly pronounced between minority men and women, with African-American, Latino and Native American women eligible for Arizona universities at rates nearly double that of their male counterparts.
At Pima Community College, which serves a large number of Latinos, the gap is evident, said Dr. Dolores Durán-Cerda, acting provost and executive vice chancellor.
“In 2014, 81.7 percent of new students to Pima Community College needed at least one developmental or remedial education course,” Durán-Cerda said. “So, as you can see, this is very significant.”
The AMEPAC report is “a monitoring of where we are now,” and provides policy recommendations to ensure all students achieve a high school diploma, improve English Language Learner’s success, ensure that poverty does not dictate the level of students’ success and that all students are college and career ready, Carlson said.
For post-secondary education, the report recommends policy that would decrease the number of college students in remedial courses, restore college scholarships and grants for minorities, increase the transfer rate of students from community colleges to the state’s universities, provide funding for all community colleges and provide incentives to colleges to recruit and retain Arizona graduate students to enhance the workforce, Durán-Cerda said.
Later reports from other organizations will examine “the whole conversation around funding schools, funding the efforts and providing the resources we need to get where we want to go,” Carlson said.
A variety of issues impact equity
Breakout sessions at the event covered other topics including eliminating barriers for under-represented and students of color, the impact of toxic stress in childhood on learning, effective family engagement in highly diverse schools, addressing the impact of poverty and childhood hunger on learning, creating an equitable environment for all students, understanding the issues facing LGBTQ students, and creating school cultures of equity.
The diverse presenters “shared different stories with the same underlying message: access and opportunity,” Powe said.
What’s working now
At the end of the conference, participants gathered to share what’s working for family engagement, cultural competency, identifying gaps in opportunity and achievement, and setting system-wide and organizational goals for equity in education.
Engaging with families and the communities is key to developing ways to help students, said Powe. She urged participants who have had success with coffee talks, family nights, reading nights, students culinary events, parent resource center to sharing these successful models with other school district governing boards and superintendents.
“There’s a lack of understanding of the cultural diversity in Arizona, and a lack of understanding how languages contribute to culture and learning,” said Nuvia Enriquez, director of multicultural community engagement for Expect More Arizona, who was part of the cultural competence discussion.
Educators should be striving to be culturally responsive and talk with parents about “what experiences at home that teachers at schools can use to engage their kids in everyday learning,” she said.
In setting goals, it’s important to “find reliable data sources and communicate across socioeconomic status groups to make sure all students get what they need to be successful,” as well as share data from kindergarten to college graduation, said Julie Bacon, Paradise Valley Unified School District board member and president-elect of the Arizona Schools Board Association’s Board of Directors.
The family engagement group suggested “implementing individual education plans that would follow (all) students and allow teachers, schools and school districts make sure that student receives all the resources they need and would follow them as they moved from district to district and school to school,” said Steven Chapman, Tolleson Union High School District board member and a member of the ASBA Board of Directors.
To identify equity gaps, “one district had done a complete equity audit, while others were looking at pieces of it like absences, tardiness and discipline disparities, so there’s really a wide range of what the current state is,” said Tracey Benson, executive director of ASBA and developer of The Equity Event.
The key is “to identify gaps, pick a place to start, have a conversation and then be prepared to act,” Benson said.