March/April 2018

Ask the Staff
Talking about equity: Why now, and is it board work?

By Dean Langdon
Dean Langdon, IASB associate executive director for Board Development, answers the question in this issue of the Journal.

Across the nation, schools are paying more attention to equity. Some say it's about resources - who has greater access and why? That may be true, but it's only part of the problem. It's easy for school boards to view the solution as pull-out programs, extra activities, or special events. After all, that's how most problems are fixed in our school districts - hire the right people, provide them with resources, approve the curriculum, and tell them to get working!

Equity, however, is different and it is the work of the board. Equity is about the entire educa-tional system and the lens through which we view it. What practices are so embedded in our sys-tem that we overlook them as being a hurdle to minority students? What policies have inadver-tently provided a roadblock to the very students we intend to help? What programs (even those viewed as successful) continue to operate "because we've always done it that way?" An equity lens will provide a new focus on board work by considering current policies and practices for all children.

The Equity Event, a new event presented this year by the Illinois Association of School Boards, is intended to help you start the discussion. Consider joining us on April 28 in Lisle for this unique event for Illinois school board members and superintendents. We're planning a day of keynotes and panels, all designed to help you identify and understand inequities in your district and what you can do to address them. You will learn the various equity issues in public educa-tion, consider your approach as members of the board, and hear how Illinois districts are address-ing equity in their communities. This event is free to attend, but advance registration is required. Participants can register now at

Heather W. Hackman, a professor and consultant ( on social jus-tice issues, will be a featured speaker at The Equity Event. She says, "This is about going beyond awareness, drilling down into the system and structures that are in place that cause harm and leave problems untouched. We have to be willing to have honest conversations about equity is-sues. Every district can engage and work their way into these concepts at the local level."

So, why equity? Because it impacts all of your students and therefore your community. Why now? Because as we look at the haves and the have nots, the gaps have never been wider. Why the board? Because you govern your entire school system and you represent all the kids. And as representatives of your community - it's time to get working.