February 2, 2022

The Power of Advocacy: Leveraging an Unprecedented Opportunity for Education Equity and Justice

By Imani Hall, Child Policy Research Certificate student ’24

Children are born ready to learn. Their development is influenced by the experiences they have and the people who surround them. Education has the power to close gaps in opportunity, help students obtain knowledge to succeed, and improve the lives of young people. The Education Trust, a group of “fierce advocates for high academic achievement,” believes that all students deserve opportunities to learn and grow.

On January 20, 2022, the Center for Child and Family Policy hosted Denise Forte, Eric Duncan, and Lynn Jennings of The Education Trust (Ed Trust) as part of the Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture series. Forte, Duncan and Jennings discussed their advocacy efforts to help eliminate the systemic inequities in the U.S. education system in a discussion entitled, “The Power of Advocacy: Leveraging an Unprecedented Opportunity for Education Equity and Justice.”

Forte is the interim CEO of Ed Trust, where she advocates to close the equity gap for students of color and low-income families. She brings strategic leadership to the organization's efforts to engage policymakers and a diverse coalition of advocates in demanding and securing equity-advancing policy change at the national and state levels.

                            Imani Hall

Ed Trust is focused on advocating for students, working hard to make sure every policy, practice, and dollar spent is effective in doing what is right for them. Ed Trust upholds its mission in three ways:

  • Collaborating with educators, parents, students, policymakers, and civic and business leaders across the nation, helping them transform schools to be more student-centered
  • Analyzing data and research to help build broader understanding of the gaps in achievement and opportunity, as well as the steps needed to close them
  • Using data analyses in building cases to inform state and national policy to help students strive for and achieve excellence

Featured in this presentation, Eric Duncan, J.D., policy analyst for educator diversity, discussed Ed Trust’s advocacy efforts to help eliminate the systemic inequities in the U.S. education system and how data can be used to elevate and alleviate the issue of education diversity. According to Duncan, data shows that if a student of color has even one teacher of color during their school experience, it increases their chances of graduating and going to college. Using this data and research, Duncan examines if students of color have adequate access to teachers of the same race.

At the state level, North Carolina has shown commitment to increasing diversity of the education workforce; however, a sizable gap between teachers of color and students of color still exists. The data from North Carolina focuses on five areas of policy:

  • Making educator diversity data visible and actionable to stakeholders
  • Setting clear goals at the state and district level to increase student access to diverse educators
  • Investing in educator preparation programs to increase enrollment and improve the preparation of teachers of color
  • Targeting resources to districts and schools to support efforts to intentionally recruit and hire a diverse teaching workforce
  • Investing in efforts to retain teachers of color, including improving working conditions and providing opportunities for personal and professional growth for teachers of color

From the data transparency perspective, North Carolina has done fairly well. Data systems are accessible to stakeholders, which allows advocates to work alongside decision makers, policymakers, and practitioners. The transparency of the data illuminates the needs of the workforce, which ultimately helps increase educator diversity.

Unfortunately, North Carolina still has a ways to go in the other domains. The state has made efforts to diversify the workforce through investing in scholarship, loan forgiveness programs (which target educators of color and help them to build wealth), investments in other areas of preparation, and holding these programs accountable. By spotlighting North Carolina’s efforts and sharing this data transparency, Ed Trust hopes to advance these policy areas to show other states what they can and should be doing to improve student outcomes.

Lynn Jennings, Ph.D., senior director of national and state partnerships, provided insight into how to implement change from the data and research. According to Jennings, advocacy and partnerships go hand in hand by ensuring communities most impacted by policy change are part of the connection between policy, data, and people. With the ultimate goal of increasing education justice and equity in our education systems, Ed Trust is taking steps to move forward by supporting state and local partners by holding trainings for teachers, bringing them together from across the state to hear from them directly.

A portion of the presentation focused on the pandemic, which has impacted virtually every walk of life, bringing about unprecedented changes in education, causing unfinished learning and difficult transitions to virtual classes. The pandemic also led to difficulties in retaining teachers, exacerbating specific teacher shortages—especially those of color—due to burnout and lack of support.

The unsettling disturbances of the pandemic have left many families in turmoil, specifically low-income families and families of color. Schools serving Black and Latino students were nine months behind those serving white students and this has only gotten worse due to interrupted or unfinished learning. Overall, communities of color and low-income families are unequally impacted by the pandemic and are facing many inequities such as underfunded schools and technology barriers, etc.

Encouragingly, this is also an unprecedented time of opportunity for education. Instead of focusing on remediating students' learning, Forte says we should focus on accelerating it by using evidence-based policy (EBP). To instigate change at the local, state, and national levels, Ed Trust uses EBP to engage policymakers and diverse coalitions of advocates in demanding and securing policy change that advances equity. School systems have the infrastructure to invest in the development of their students—a felicitous use of that money would be to invest in technology-based learning, especially for students who have been underserved.

Critically, students' relationships with their teachers and other academic role models can greatly affect their success in school. Building and maintaining a strong connection between students and educators is crucial to success both inside and outside of the classroom.

As a neuroscience major, this approach aligns with my interest in the brain and how it adapts to experience over time. I am inspired by Ed Trust’s goals of advocating for students and the long-term impact that can have on people's lives. I couldn't agree more that children, who do not have a voice of their own in policy, should be advocated for; particularly children of color or those living in poverty. Ed Trust is committed to helping expand excellence and equity for students to improve educational outcomes across the nation, which is vital to sustaining our democracy and strengthening America.

Imani Hall is a sophomore at Duke University majoring in Neuroscience with a certificate in Child Policy Research. She aspires to become a developmental-behavioral pediatrician to help children and families at the intersection of clinical medicine and child development and health policies.