Profiles of Impact: Equity in Public Education: Changing Landscape, Accessing Opportunities

30 Years, in 12 Months: Our Profiles of Impact series showcases just 12 moments out of many that have made our work both meaningful and impactful. But how did we get there? Each month in 2017, we go behind the scenes to interview the people who were “there”, and illustrate how progress through communications is possible every day.

Several decades after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, progress toward ensuring equity in public education refuses to advance in a straight line. Significant strides have been made, but critical barriers threaten to derail the effort. Federal studies show America’s public schools are increasingly segregated by race and class. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, just 39 percent of individuals ages 25 – 34 have the education necessary to compete in the current job market.

In 2007, Vanguard began to work with a unique coalition of leading civil rights organizations that was determined to address the challenges facing historically disadvantaged students and their communities. Known as the Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE), the coalition sought to promote policies to improve high schools so that all students graduate prepared for college or the workforce. It included the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Indian Education Association and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

Although there were powerful individual brands within the coalition, the group required a collective voice to influence secondary education policy. Vanguard conducted messaging trainings, organized Capitol Hill briefings, identified and capitalized on critical media opportunities, and placed op-eds in high-profile news outlets.

In late summer 2011, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Congress were determining how best to address the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — specifically the introduction of the state waiver process. Vanguard helped CHSE place an op-ed by Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, and Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, in Politico to put the Coalition’s stake in the ground on the topic. Shortly after it appeared in Politico, former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Janet Murguía to speak about the issue.

During the 2012 State of the Union address, Vanguard provided CHSE with strategic counsel to help raise awareness of CHSE through social media and leverage strategies with offline coalition building. CHSE, along with other partners in the field helped education became the most tweeted about topic during the address. In the days following, the White House hosted “office hours” on Twitter, during which they responded directly to a CHSE tweet regarding resource equity.

In addition, Vanguard helped CHSE create its foundational “Plan for Success”— a framework of federal policy priorities for improving the nation’s public high schools. Through the Plan, CHSE made a name for itself in the education policy community.

While CHSE is no longer an active coalition, each participating organization’s work supporting equity in public education lives on. Vanguard’s Stephanie Dukes, who managed the project, recently caught up with CHSE’s former executive director Michael S. Wotorson, who at the time of this article lead Resource & Policy Strategies International, to discuss the coalition’s long-term impact.

  1. What do you think was CHSE’s greatest accomplishment?

“Without a doubt, it was advancing the federal and state conversation around strengthening high school quality. Prior to CHSE, conversations about federal high school policy were virtually non-existent. In fact, the very absence of the conversation led to the development of the phrase “the missing middle” in reference to the absent conversation about high schools. Perhaps most important though, the work of CHSE solidified for parents and local advocates in communities of color around the country that they had real agency in advancing policy and practice reforms at the high school level. I think we see evidence of that all around us today.”

  1. During your tenure, was there any one defining moment that affirmed CHSE’s work?

“The first policy/strategy training for state-based affiliates really affirmed our work. We brought together local advocates from across the country, most of whom had no experience with organized advocacy or state/federal legislative strategy. As the dialogue progressed, we soon unlocked a firestorm of committed advocates across racial, ethnic, income and education boundaries. The attendees began structuring their own state-level advocacy committees organically and that gave birth to our state organizing effort.”

  1. What do you feel are the greatest challenges to equity in public high school today?

“The competition for resources amid the push to increasingly privatize public education represents one of the biggest threats to equity in public high schools.”

  1. Do you feel the education policy priorities outlined in the “Plan for Success” are still applicable priorities for today? If so, why?

“I absolutely believe the CHSE policy priorities are still applicable today. In fact, given the provisions of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the policy leanings of the U.S. Department of Education, I believe those policy recommendations are more necessary today perhaps than ever before.”

In its six years in existence, CHSE made a huge impact, but the work is not over. Education continues to be under fire. We cheer for the individual organizations who are working even harder today to ensure equity in high school education, and a fair shot at a future for all students.