The start of a new year is always a time for reflection on the past and thoughts about the future. Many people use it as an opportunity to develop both short- and long-term goals. For education leaders, the start of 2021 is an opportunity for us to look back at the last decade of education policy advancements and reflect on the progress and shortcomings that have shaped these past 10 years.

When we look back, we are likely to be more focused on the more immediate chaotic and devastating effects that the global pandemic has on our education system across all communities. As COVID-19 spread across the world and into our communities, many of the system’s underlying issues that have challenged education leaders became exacerbated. Income inequalities, lack of universal access by all students to crucial technology, ongoing disparities in academic success, and so many other issues became especially clear during this crisis. We won’t soon forget the stories of students across the country sitting outside fast-food restaurants to gain internet access to complete their daily coursework. 

At the same time, we watched as many of our communities addressed the growing resurgence of open disdain for students of different ethnic, gender, and sexual orientations by many public institutions. In our schools, students embrace their own voices and are taking leading roles in advancing issues of student equity and justice. Students have played a vital role in important movements such as Black Lives Matter. Students across the nation have pushed their education and community leaders to take immediate and substantial action to end acts of discrimination within the halls of their schools. In Texas, students and their families have worked locally to make education leaders step back and address historic policies in their school districts that discriminated against students simply for wearing their natural hair to school.

As we move forward into 2021, we are reminded by the past decade that there are still many crucial issues that we must address to make critical and long overdue progress on issues of education equity. For education leaders and policymakers, this will require taking the first step in acknowledging the ongoing problem and making a commitment to address the issues. During this double pandemic of COVID-19 and racial inequity, we must remember that we as leaders have the responsibility to step forward and address the systemic foundation these problems are built on. The public and our students and families will watch our actions to see if we can address the real issues and move beyond simply triaging the symptoms that they cause.

To do this, every education leader and policymaker must make real commitments to solve these issues. Local district board members and administrators will have to seek out the groundbreaking work that is being done around the country and bring lessons learned back home for implementation. At the same time, many education leaders and policymakers surely will face some parts of their community that will scream and fight any of these efforts to address education equity. These education leaders and policymakers, from the new U.S. Secretary of Education to a local board of education member, must find the courage to push back against these attacks and do what is morally right.

As we start a new year, it is my hope that as education leaders and policymakers, we can unite to make this decade the one where we finally fully address the issues of education equity and justice for all our students.

Around NSBA

a boy being tutored at a desk

Black Students in the Condition of Education 2020

The Center for Public Education selected relevant data from the Condition of Education to help school leaders not only monitor the educational progress of Black students, but also rethink what public schools can do better for Black students.