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Charter Board Partners

It’s Time for Those Difficult Conversations

July 19, 2017 | by Carrie C. Irvin

If we want our schools to shape citizens who will make the world a better place, we must talk about issues of diversity, race, equity, and power. Yet many charter school boards avoid these issues, or just skate on their surface.  Most boards tell us they need guidance and support; these are tricky subjects, and many fear opening up uncomfortable and even painful conversations.  But more painful is not addressing these issues—silence stands in the way of making our schools the engines of equity and opportunity we believe they should be.

Last month, charter school board members representing 10 public charter schools discussed findings from a new report* on diversity, equity, and inclusion in education organizations, including public charter schools.

Xiomara Padamsee of Bellwether Education Partners, one of the report’s authors, shared takeaways, including:

  1. Overall, the report concluded that nonprofit organizations in the education sector are making slow but real progress in addressing issues of diversity and inclusiveness—but not equity.
  2. Staff members—especially people of color—are dramatically more likely to stay with diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. They are also three times more likely to recommend those organizations to a friend.
  3. The sector’s leadership—especially in senior roles—is not representative of students. For example, while 40 percent of students served by the surveyed organizations are Latino/Hispanic, only 8 percent of leadership team members/CEOs are Latino/Hispanic, and only 7 percent of board members.
  4. Few organizations collect data on equity, such as pay and promotions by race/ethnicity; however, staff give low scores for perceived equity of talent systems.
  5. Few organizations are proactively fostering an inclusive environment.

The gathering was the second in a series of convenings Charter Board Partners is hosting to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in charter school governance.

Participants agreed with the report’s authors that progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion is not about implementing a checklist of to-do’s but rather requires a deep, consistent, embedded focus.

Some diverse boards and organizations are still not inclusive; participants discussed ways in which their boards do and do not work to encourage all of their board members to speak up and share their voices.

Padamsee pointed out that organizations have different definitions of diversity. Should a board exactly mirror the racial makeup of a school, so that, for example, 100 percent of board members are African American if all students in the school are African American? Or should every school have a racially diverse board, no matter the make-up of the student body? 

CBP is committed to helping boards tackle the challenge of becoming more diverse and inclusive, ensuring that their organizations are diverse and inclusive, and learning how to address the complex issue of equity within organizations.  Our next steps include:

  • A series of blogs written by board members of color; watch this space in the coming weeks, and let us know if you’d like to join the conversation
  • Developing and piloting tools and rubrics to support boards in clarifying their role, leaning into these conversations, and involving all board members; let us know if you are interested in participating in this work with us.

Thanks for reading—we appreciate the opportunity to be on this journey with you as we continue to focus on the importance of diverse, inclusive, and equitable boards in the education sector.

Learn more about our ongoing work on board diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.


* The report, Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which will be released July 25, was written by Xiomara Padamsee and Becky Crowe of Bellwether and supported by foundations including NewSchools Venture Fund, Chan Zuckerberg initiative, The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

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