a man sits on a table talking with a group of students

PHOTO COURTESY OF MICAH ALI

Elected school board members play a vital role in advancing equity for Black students. School board members are among the guiding forces for setting a district’s policies and priorities that often are under-leveraged on behalf of education equity. This is not to discount the role of the community, state, and federal policy, etc., but it is to emphasize that the answers for true and enduring transformation for the betterment of each and every student often lie within the very individuals charged with their stewardship.

What do I mean by this? Well, districts are only as effective as those setting the agenda and providing a measure of accountability. When we look at districts, the difference between districts embracing innovations and new strategies versus those proverbially “clocking it in” and pursuing the status quo strategy of business as usual comes down to the effectiveness and activity of their elected board members.

While we often bemoan the state and quality of education for Black students, our elected board members are the individuals who wield the greatest power in shifting this narrative.

We know that the status quo is ineffective and fails many students across the country. However, board members can ensure that their collective leadership is harnessed effectively and used to foster positive outcomes instead of simply repeating the same tired refrain of the need for equity. Similarly, these same individuals can assess the effectiveness of existing programs and, when necessary, modify them to incorporate innovative new approaches. They even can direct funding in such a manner that students, instead of adults, are at the center.

This includes putting forth initiatives, approving (or questioning) expenditures, and finding new ways to support students at every level. Whether through supplemental tutoring, innovative instructional models, career pathways, extracurricular programs, or other after-school programs, all of these initiatives must pass through school boards.

For this precise reason, I urge my fellow board members across the country to become active and bold. We only have so much time with every child who matriculates through our schools. We do not have the time to make gradual and unfocused changes that often leave out Black students. We must be courageous and embrace new strategies.

By doubling down on what we know works and supplementing with new experimentations, we can enhance our overall effectiveness at educating students and ensure that we maintain our country’s position as a global powerhouse.

We all know that a quality education is one of the most valuable things a child can receive. It unlocks doors and opportunities, setting children up for success. Why, then, should we wait for others to solve the opportunity gaps that exist within our own districts? Why not do everything we possibly can to help the next generation carry the torch of American innovation, ingenuity, and limitless potential?

As this is my final article in this series, and as CUBE chair, I want to wrap up this discussion on education as reparations with a note of appreciation and encouragement. First, I must thank you, NSBA and CUBE, for the opportunity to support your important work. I have been humbled by the response to these articles and by the education leaders who personally reached out to share their thoughts and passion to do better on behalf of Black students.

Second, you have permission. When voters placed you in the stewardship of their education system, they gave you permission to be courageous. They gave you permission to be innovative. They gave you permission to lean in within your sphere of influence on behalf of children and the future leaders of this great nation. What they are expecting from you is that you will not allow children to persistently have opportunity ripped from them because they have been allowed to continue to struggle unnoticed, unregarded, and unsupported. If it is difficult to rally support around addressing unabating abysmal outcomes that inequitably burden Black children, then look at your data. Place your sights on addressing those student groups that the data shows are facing the greatest hurdles—I can guarantee Black children will be among that group.

Historical facts tell us these students are placed in a uniquely challenging position by way of hundreds of years of slavery and oppression. We in education also are uniquely positioned to right those wrongs by investing in their education and in creating pathways to opportunity that have the greatest promise of impact. Are you ready to get courageous with me?

Micah Ali is the 2022-23 chair of the CUBE Steering Committee and president emeritus of California’s Compton Unified School District Board of Trustees.

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2020 State of the Association

Full of challenge and change, 2020 was like no other year. NSBA's State of the Association provides a snapshot of the association's advocacy and member services work as well as our ongoing transformation.