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NEA Symposium Spotlights Strategies to Close Gaps in Educational Opportunity

Earlier this month, we were excited and honored to attend the symposium “Closing the Gaps: A Policy and Practice Conversation to Advance an Opportunity Agenda,” presented by the National Education Association at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. It was a thought-provoking event, filled with great speakers and compelling strategies for closing gaps in student achievement and opportunity.

Panelists included Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University), Robert Balfanz (Johns Hopkins University), Kisha Davis-Caldwell (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards), Ron Ferguson (Harvard University), and many others. These speakers discussed gap-closing strategies, policy levers to support effective practices, and directions the education field will (and should) take in the future. They also consistently emphasized the importance of community engagement.

For educator preparation programs, the speakers said, this means close collaboration with local PK-12 schools, not only around clinical practice but to understand the population their graduates will most likely serve. Panelists also discussed the importance of preservice teachers’ learning the significance of advocacy in their programs, as “education is politics”; attendees noted that teachers are often put in the position of needing to advocate for their students and themselves. Maria Pacheco (Education Alliance, Brown University) further emphasized a need to invest in career teachers and to diversify the workforce to more effectively reach all learners.

AACTE is hosting a related conference next month on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The June 9 event, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, will focus in particular on interdisciplinary partnerships to help boost the number, quality, and diversity of the STEM teacher workforce.

Other AACTE programs and initiatives also address elements identified at the NEA symposium. To work towards the goal of increasing diversity in the education workforce, our Networked Improvement Community has 10 member institutions focusing on “Changing the Demographic Makeup of the Teaching Workforce” by developing strategies to recruit Black and Hispanic men to the teaching profession. The AACTE Holmes Scholars® Program is helping to diversify the education professoriate with support for doctoral students of color nationwide. The Educator Workforce Advisory Task Force is developing strategies to increase novice teacher retention in high-need school districts and schools. Several programs encourage strong partnerships between educator preparation programs and their local schools and communities for mutually beneficial partnerships and effective advocacy and support.

View the agenda and speaker list for NEA’s symposium here.

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Lucy Berrier

Board Liaison and Special Projects Coordinator, AACTE