Equity: Equity Work

Critical Care

Support for districts with underserved student populations

Verjeana Jacobs

“We affirm in our actions that each student can, will, and shall learn. We recognize that based on factors including, but not limited to, disability, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, students are deprived of equitable educational opportunities. Educational equity is the intentional allocation of resources, instruction, and opportunities according to need, requiring that discriminatory practices, prejudices, and beliefs be identified and eradicated.”

The dream and promise of public education is for every child to succeed in school and in life. To realize this dream, every child must be given resources, supports, and interventions based on their needs. To this end, through months of discussion, we at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) had to acknowledge and accept the frequent failure of that promise for some students. So, we embarked on a journey to define the concept of “educational equity.”

We are no stranger to the work of equity, and the above statement represents both our commitment and our pledge to be a thought leader, purveyor, and champion of educational equity for every child in America’s public schools. Defining educational equity was a crucial step. During this journey, we also defined the focus of NSBA’s Equity Department, determining three goals:

  1. To provide content-based programming, research, and staff support for the work of the Councils.
  2. To provide equity-based resources and content for the state school boards associations.
  3. To communicate, collaborate, and infuse educational equity through - out NSBA’s advocacy, legal, and public engagement strategies.

This road map tactically positions us to support our members as they support students. In focusing on these three areas, we will bolster and improve on existing programs, create new programs and initiatives within the organization, and support our members in their equity work. These programs and initiatives will educate school board members on the need to approach their work with an equity mindset, give them the tools and resources to do so, and ultimately ensure that students across the country are receiving what they need to succeed. 

While our work moving forward will be defined by these goals, we are not starting from scratch. Our work with the NSBA councils will build off existing programming at our annual conference to provide a year-round member experience. We have established NSBA Connect sites as an online platform for ongoing networking and resource sharing between members.


NSBA has four councils that represent school board members in districts with underserved students. The councils—the National American Indian/Alaska Native Council of School Board Members (AIAN), the National Black Council of School Board Members (NBC), the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), and the National Hispanic Council (NHC)—have been working for years to ensure that school board members both understand and are equipped to support the unique needs of historically disadvantaged children. The leaders of the councils are all too familiar with the work that must be done to ensure equitable access for every child.

Emma Turner, chair of NBC, shares her perspective, stating that working with NSBA and the National Black Council gives her the opportunity to disseminate information to colleagues that will encourage them to help students succeed.

Turner’s perspective is encouraging, yet the past several months have demonstrated that we are facing a crossroads in our country. Reports of hate crimes and bullying are up, while civil rights protections are being rolled back. According to Rodney Schilt, chair of AIAN, we still live in a country where Native Americans are “told how inferior we are” and “shown by action,” the latter a statement that is apparent in the treatment of Native protestors attempting to preserve their land at Standing Rock. With more than 50 percent of America’s public school children being identified as “of color,” and an awareness that schools today are more segregated than they were when the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down in 1954, we have much more work to do.

As an organization, NSBA must decide how it will be an integral part of this educational equity narrative. Micah Ali, chair of the CUBE Steering Committee, says,“NSBA is uniquely positioned to serve as both thought and action leaders in the pursuit of educational equity.” We must be the beacon that changes the tide in public education. We must fight for all children.


We are also looking forward to continuing several of our successful events this year. We began the year with the Equity Symposium, a one-day event that offers our attendees the opportunity to examine and discuss strategies, current trends, research, and best practices that are positively impacting the educational outcomes of every student in traditional K-12 public settings. This event is held in conjunction with NSBA’s Advocacy Institute, an intentional pairing to signify the importance of advocating and speaking on behalf of every child and his or her specific needs.

We will host our annual planning retreat this summer with the leaders of our Councils, giving us all a chance to spend a few days evaluating the work we have done so far and planning the direction of our programming and events for the next year. Finally, the CUBE conference will be held in late September in Las Vegas.

We applaud the great work happening in public education across America, and we believe in the promise of public education for every child. We are here to champion educational equity for those who fall through the cracks, those who lack access to effective learning options. We have all experienced inequities that we want to see eliminated and aim to see no failed promises for any child.

Ali is motivated by “a burning desire to see our students of color reach the greatness they have the potential to achieve.” Turner is motivated by her “own personal journey in the K-12 system”— her experience growing up in the 1960s and 70s as an African American in the South exposed her to racism and systemic denial of basic educational resources. Schilt feels a sense of urgency—“Every day, week, month and year that passes without equity is time lost.” National Hispanic Council Chair Steve Corona believes that the future of our country depends on an equitable education for every child—“The vitality of our community is dependent on educated and skilled citizens to support their families and to attract good-paying jobs.”

As staff, we echo these convictions, and we are proud to work with school board members across the country to ensure that all students are receiving a comprehensive, rigorous education in a public school that is equipped to meet their educational, physical, and mental needs.

The inclusion of an Equity column in ASBJ will allow us to communicate with you on our work, work being done around the country, and to share research and strategies that are proven to positively impact the education of our most underserved student populations. We look forward to engaging with you on this crucial work. If you have comments, questions, or ideas for topics that would support you in your work, please email equity@nsba.org.

Verjeana Jacobs (vjacobs@nsba.org) is director of NSBA’s Equity Programming.

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