The Intersection

An Equity Q&A with Education Commission of the States’ Jeremy Anderson, President & Alyssa Rafa, Policy Researcher

August 21, 2017


Q: How do you define equity in public education?

A: A lot is changing in education policy across the nation, but one thing remains the same, the idea
that all students should be afforded the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary
to achieve their future goals. While this is the goal for our country, inequities in the education system continue to stifle opportunities for many students to achieve their potential. State policymakers should harness their power and demonstrate their commitment to addressing this problem by implementing equity-focused policies. 

Educational equality means that all students receive equal access to the same educational pathways. While this is a laudable goal, simply leveling the field is not enough. States should strive for equity in educational opportunities by providing all students with the unique supports they need to succeed. 

To address systemic inequities, education leaders must first understand that diverse students have diverse needs. A focus on equity takes into consideration the varying personal experiences and social identifiers that impact students’ educational opportunities, including race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, family background and others. States have the power to advance educational equity by strategically targeting resources and crafting policies that directly address opportunity gaps and challenge the status quo.


Q: What policy mechanisms relating to ESSA would you identify as having
the most potential to create a more equitable education system?

A: Education Commission of the States supports states in identifying their equity needs and bringing together thought partners across the education field to better understand, develop and implement decisions that improve opportunities for all students. To move the needle on equity in education, state policymakers may consider focusing on policy assessment and development across four pillars of work: teaching and leading, learning and transitioning, measuring and improving, and financing. While there are several potential areas for consideration related to equity under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the following questions provide some guidance for policymakers on where to start their approach.

    • Teaching and Leading: All students should have access to effective teachers and leaders to have equitable opportunities to succeed in school and beyond. Does your state have teacher preparation, certification and professional development policies in place to recruit, retain and support a diverse workforce to improve student outcomes, particularly for students of color?
    • Learning and Transitioning: All students should receive equitable opportunities to pursue rigorous coursework while receiving the diverse supports they need to achieve. Does your state ensure that every high school student has access to rigorous coursework taught by qualified instructors, including Advanced Placement, STEM, dual enrollment, arts and gifted programs?
    • Measuring and Improving: Education systems should strive toward equity by regularly measuring, assessing and improving their ability to provide spaces for learning and growth. Does your state monitor the distribution of student disciplinary actions across populations of students to ensure equitable responses for all students?
    • Financing: The identification and appropriation of funding is one of the key policy levers available
      to support equity in education systems. Does your state implement a process to identify at-risk students and provide them with additional resources through either the school funding formula
      or a categorical funding program?

    Q: What work does your organization have coming up (or recently completed) in this area? 

    A: In the recent publication, Equity in Education: Key Questions to Consider, Education Commission
    of the States outlines several potential areas of consideration for policymakers looking to improve education equity in their state through ESSA and across the P-20 spectrum. While there are several specific areas of work to consider, overall, state leaders should focus on providing students with the best chance at success in school and beyond by asking themselves:

    “Does our state tailor and target supports to students based on their diverse and specific needs—as opposed to simply providing equal supports to all students?” This question shifts the focus from educational equality to educational equity; this shift is key to providing all students with the opportunities they deserve.

    For states to grow their workforce to meet 21st century demands, they must provide every student
    with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their future goals.
    The successful growth of a state workforce and economy will require more than equality of education,
    it will necessitate that equity is a priority of all state education policies.


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