Are Your Policies Equitable?

AASB STEPS Partnership Coordinator Lisa Worl co-facilitated the Equity and Policy workshop with AASB Director of Membership Services, Lon Garrison.

Saturday’s Equity and Policy sectional was co-facilitated by Lon Garrison & Lisa Worl from AASB. They began by stating that policy is the foundation for governing your district. It is the “What” and the “Why.” Implementing policy is dealt with by your administration, with the assistance of the board.

The sectional goals were to consider school board roles and responsibilities in relation to equity and policy and to form ideas on how school board members’ roles can help to improve educational equity.

After a brief review of statewide PEAKS data that showed a disparity in academic outcomes among students of varying income levels and race, the following definition of Education Equity was provided, with attribution to Glenn E. Singleton, author of Courageous Conversations About Race:

  • Raising the achievement of all students, while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest-performing students.
  • Eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories.
  • It is not a program or initiative, and does not equate to “doing diversity work.”

The “Deficit Thinking Paradigm” was then explored, a belief that a student’s failures are attributable to a lack of intellectual ability, linguistic inferiority, of family dysfunction. This perspective suggests that efforts to improve academic achievement should be focused on “fixing” students, rather than improving school culture to support their intellective capacity building.

Armed with this information, attendees were asked to discuss a series of questions and report on their ideas on how to move from challenges to solutions.

What are some of the words you heard in the definition of what equity is and is not?
What are some of the data points you see in your district?


  • Thank you to the white people in the room. Alaska has experienced colonialism and disenfranchisement. Laws are built to favor white men. When people of multiple diversities talk about equity, white people feel uncomfortable. So thank you for all “being here” as a group to discuss this issue.
  • It’s important to include students. Kids understand equity, it’s the adults that need to change. Enacting these policies is very important to people who have been marginalized.
  • Socio-economic status is a predictor, as is race and gender.
  • Anchorage is the most diverse district in the state. Our teachers need to look like our students. We have to have that diversity. We also need to make education more culturally relevant.

Considering the primary roles of the school board: Reviewing, developing and adopting policy; Setting and approving district budget (allocating resources), Reviewing and adopting curriculum and instruction, and Hiring and evaluating the superintendent:

What comes to mind as you think about the board’s responsibility and equity?
Is this in line with what you are seeing in your schools?


  • Connecting policies that are culturally responsive, allowing celebrations for what we have, making sure all kids are given the best shot that they can at our school.
  • Our policy should be written to be equitable, right wrongs, and reflect society as it is now.
  • What needs to be edited is “equity for all, support for all.” The question we struggle with in our policies and practices is, naming out specific populations.
  • As a mom, we have one counselor who was not focused on equity, and focused on certain things for certain kids. When I was present as a parent advocate, my kids got different information than when they were there by themselves.
  • It’s a blessing and curse that we have so much data. We can’t say we don’t know. As a board we’ve taken on locally our strategic plan that includes all students. Now we can focus on research, development and funding of equity efforts.

As school board members, what should you consider as your role in equity?
What are some of the ways you can help your board address equity?


  • Stop the silence! People feel uncomfortable when talking about equity among races. A safe space doesn’t mean you won’t be offended.
  • Student involvement is important. Projects involving students have a more concrete impact and are more successful. We can talk about equity, but we need to ask students what they think.
  • We haven’t done a good enough job of reaching out to students, but we do have a student representative on our board. So with each vote the student rep has an “advisory vote.” The first opinion we hear on the subject matter is from the student.
  • Many boards have several advisory members on their board, including students, military, and other constituencies.
  • Forty years ago we made good advancements toward equity. I don’t know if we’re sending the equity message as clearly as we did then.
  • Paradigm shift is important. When we look at other cultures and languages and we see that as “holding them back,” kids are seeing their language and culture as a detriment to learning, instead of seeing someone who can speak another language as a gift that can be shared. We don’t have to hide culture and language, or see it as a deficit. People are bringing a set of assets.
  • Anchorage has many diverse cultures, which were being viewed by some as being a reason education costs were so high. Language is important, and these comments were heard by these constituencies. Some folks see other languages and cultures as problems that need to be “fixed,” but it’s not the kids who need to be fixed.

What are some of the key issues on equity and policy that could be put forward to discuss on the board agenda?
How might we at AASB help you and other school boards in developing capacity around this work?


  • We as board members need to address equity, and make sure our students are trained in equity. We’ve got to realize that diversity is not just something we need to do, but need to have it in the classrooms as well.
  • As a result of this sectional I’m thinking about what the board’s role is in creating safe space to discuss equity issues.
  • This issue is not going away. The data says we have a challenge, and as boards we have to grapple with it. NAEP scores rank Alaska at the bottom. It’s up to us as board members to address this issue.
  • Actually, “ranking at the bottom” is a distortion. The statistics show there is actually a tight bunch of students and Alaska is at the back, but we’re getting beat to death with those descriptors of “at the bottom” or “our schools are failing.” Not everything is good, but there is more to the discussion than these descriptors.
  • If you participate in the AASB School Climate and Connectedness Survey (SCCS), Jenni can provide professional development to your board on analyzing your data and developing strategies to move forward.

The sectional concluded with participants writing their Table Talk discussion ideas on how to move from challenges to solutions on large sticky notes for display to the group. These notes are available at the link below.


Equity & Policy presentation slides

School Board’s Role in Equity Outcomes document

Table Talk Sticky Notes