The National Equity Project began in 1991 as a regional office of Ted Sizer’s Coalition for Essential Schools, then based at Brown University.
In 1995, we were founded as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Bay Area Coalition for Essential Schools, or BayCES.
In 1998, under the leadership of Executive Director Steve Jubb, BayCES changed its name to the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools to emphasize our focus on addressing disparities among student groups that we believe arise from racism, classicism, language bias, and other forms of systemic bias. From 1995-1999, we coached over a dozen comprehensive high schools in the wider Bay Area to help them enact the practices of essential schools, and to put the values of equity in practice. We also developed an increasingly sophisticated coaching methodology in response to the challenge of facilitating significant change in urban schools.
In 1998 we also first partnered with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) to plan a small schools initiative in Oakland. OCO activists were working with parents who were frustrated with overcrowded, dilapidated, low-performing schools, and saw small schools in the northeast, as led by and explained in books and articles by Deborah Meier and others, as a way to improve the dire overcrowding as well as the quality of teaching and learning.
In 2000, we drafted the New Small Autonomous Schools policy that was passed by the Oakland Board of Education, authorizing the creation of a network of 10 new small schools in Oakland Unified. We received a $15.7 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support design teams to plan and open their new small schools. We created a new small school incubator that vetted proposals, trained teams in small school best practices, coached teams in collaboration with each other and their communities, and in 2006 we passed the incubator to district management. In the end, over 40 new small schools were created. In 2004 Oakland was the most improved large district in the state of California in terms of district Academic Performance Index, which it has continued to be for the following six years. (See the Impact section for more information on Oakland reform outcomes.)
From 2000-8, we adopted a place-based strategy to focus on equity efforts in Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley school districts, and stopped work in other places. In Emeryville, we partnered with the Emery Unified School District and the city to develop a new public partnership with business and arts organizations, and facilitated the redesign of the small district into two schools, a K-5 and a 6-12 secondary school. In Berkeley, we coached teams at Berkeley High School to create small learning communities to better meet the needs of low-performing students of color. Berkeley High was one of the most diverse high schools with one of largest achievement gaps in the state.
In 2007, the period of small schools creation and the funding for it was coming to an end in these three sites. Oakland and Emeryville showed very strong gains in student achievement, especially in elementary schools, but there was still a long way to go to achieve equity and remove the predictability of student outcomes by race and class. Berkeley High had launched four new small schools within the large school that were seeing gains in college readiness and matriculation for students of color, and we continue to support the school as its reform continues.
In 2007, LaShawn Route Chatmon was hired by the board of trustees as Executive Director after the retirement of Steve Jubb. Under LaShawn’s leadership, we began to focus increasingly on two levers for further improving outcomes for vulnerable children: leadership development, and learning partnerships in instruction.
In 2008-9, we developed two programs to invest in developing these approaches and offering increased service to partners in these areas: Leading for Equity and Impact 2012 (Partnerships for Learning). We sought and received major grants from new partner foundations to develop these service areas – from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to expand Leading for Equity programs, and from the Carnegie Corporation to develop and expand Impact 2012. Our school and district redesign services continue in our Equity by Design program along with new services to meet partner needs in team development and data-based planning.
Our Leading for Equity program enables us to work with a range of partners besides schools, and to provide services to partners around the country. In 2011, we were selected by Minneapolis Public Schools to support their district-wide equity initiative. No longer limited to the Bay Area or schools, we decide to change our name in 2010. As the National Equity Project, we have formally launched an effort to change the national conversation about achieving equity in our schools and communities. We begin working increasingly to support existing community-wide initiatives to reduce disparities that result from structural racism, initiatives including Oakland’s Promise Neighborhoods and Ready Schools Miami, helping those projects develop leadership at every level to accomplish their equity goals.
Going forward, we continue to refine our leadership, design, and instructional programs, deepening our analysis of the causes and solutions to inequality in education. Our next challenge is to build a national network of leaders who share our leading for equity vision and approaches and to provide a forum for them to share ideas and inspiration.