Board member’s perspective: Tanya Ortiz Franklin on her new proposal for LA schools to accelerate achievement through ‘equity in action’
Tanya Ortiz Franklin | August 20, 2021
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After seven months serving as the newest member of the LA Unified Board of Education, I see an incredibly simple but difficult opportunity before the second-largest school district in the country: defining one word — “equity.”
It’s a word we see everywhere in education these days — in news articles discussing the academic and social-emotional recovery from the pandemic, in movements calling for social and racial justice in our schools, and in budget decisions about an unprecedented investment in our students. But in every discussion forum — social media, meetings with our district staff, families, and partners, and at our board meetings — it seems to me there is confusion and conflation of the terms “equity” and “equality.”
In the simplest terms, “equity” means everyone gets what they need and “equality” means everyone gets the same. This understanding results in dramatically different resource distribution, opportunities and outcomes for students and communities. In the reality I have observed in the district since growing up as a student, teaching middle school, and working alongside educators to transform some of our highest-need schools, “equality” and “equity” have both often unfortunately been interpreted as “everything stays the same.”
This isn’t unique to LA Unified, but rather very common across public institutions that make incredibly important decisions for some of our most historically disenfranchised and neglected communities.
We now have a unique opportunity to put a stake in the ground — define equity and put it into action to accelerate our students’ holistic achievement. We have enough public pressure. We have enough political will. We have enough collective consciousness to stop perpetuating systemic oppression and intentionally make things as right as possible, especially for our most vulnerable children and youth.
This is why, with my co-author and mentor, School Board Member Monica Garcia, I am asking our board, our district, and our entire Los Angeles community to consider a three-part definition of equity that, first, recognizes our students have been impacted by historical inequities; second, redistributes resources based on student need; and, third, results in closed gaps in opportunities and outcomes for all students.
With this definition in mind, any action coming before the board — contracts, resolutions, facilities approvals, and more — would go through an analysis of each component on a rubric and an Equity Impact Statement would be included with board materials so that decisions are made with a full understanding of the equity implications of our votes.
We currently receive impact statements in the areas of legal, operations, budget and policy, which are prepared by the district staff members who oversee those areas. I envision a similar but more robust process with equity, resulting in more honest conversations and more student-centered decisions.
For example, at a recent meeting with diverse community partners, we practiced analyzing and scoring previous actions that came before the board in June 2021. A revenue contract for professional development for six schools in English Language Development valued at $300,000 somewhat recognized past inequities for long-term English Language Learners, redistributed resources based on student need, and may result in closed gaps in student outcomes, scoring perhaps 7/12.
A vacation pay-out for employees unable to take a vacation during the pandemic, valued up to $50M where the average pay-out was $2,200 but eight employees could receive over $30,000 would have scored much lower on the Equity Impact Rubric, perhaps 3/12.
Not only will board members have this information before voting, but also our constituents will have the opportunity to use the rubric themselves and do their own analysis before contributing public comment and being a part of our collective solution to systemic inequities.
Our resolution, “Accelerating Achievement through Equity in Action” is available at http://laschoolboard.org/08-24-21RegBd where the public can also find instructions on contacting board members and making comments during the meeting. I invite anyone who is interested in closing opportunity gaps for kids to join us in this simple, but difficult task.
Let’s define “equity” in LA Unified once and for all.
Tanya Ortiz Franklin serves on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, representing the diverse communities of South LA, Watts, Gardena, Carson, Lomita, Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro.