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Charter Board Partners

Board Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness

May 12, 2017 | by Carrie C. Irvin

Earlier this year Charter Board Partners launched the public phase of our diversity, equity, and inclusiveness work. More than 65 public charter school board members of color joined us for a first-of-its-kind gathering in Washington, D.C. 

We believe that focusing on this part of governance work is critical to our mission of ensuring that every public charter school has a strong, strategic, and effective board. Our work in this area includes:

  • Convening board members, educators, stakeholders, and other education leaders to discuss the complex tapestry of issues tied to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness and how they specifically relate to boards
  • Expanding diversity on charter school boards by recruiting more board members of color, and providing support
  • Helping boards understand how to talk about issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness and how to bring these lenses to bear as they make strategic decisions and provide oversight of their schools
  • Providing training, resources, and tools for boards and board members around diversity, equity, and inclusiveness
  • Engaging our staff in deep training to better understand how issues of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness play out in board work, and how to facilitate conversations that can often be tense, uncomfortable, and messy

The conversation at our first convening was thoughtful, powerful, provocative, and at times uncomfortable.  We asked participants to talk about what it’s like to be a person of color on a charter school board, how we know if boards are actually (not just superficially) diverse and inclusive, why diverse and inclusive boards are better boards, and what the ed reform sector can do to support more diversity and inclusiveness on boards.

This is the first in a series of blogs in which we will dive into the different themes touched on in the discussions. And we want to hear from you on these issues, so we hope you'll join this discussion. Here are some of the questions raised at the first meeting that will be part of our discussions going forward:

  • How much diversity is “enough” diversity?  According to whom?
  • Who says “board member” means “a white finance guy in a suit?” How did that mental image get created in (some) people’s minds, and how can we dismantle it?
  • The people of color on a board shouldn’t be the only ones raising issues of diversity, power, race, and equity – yet they usually are. How can that dynamic be altered?
  • Boards may appear to be diverse, but that’s not the end of the conversation. Is the culture of the board inclusive?
  • Is the board’s only diversity strategy to find parents of color? Are parent board members treated differently? And, is there socioeconomic diversity on the board? 
  • Where does power lie on charter school boards? With those who have access to funding? With those from the dominant culture? With the board chair, who is highly likely to be white, according to the data? 
  • How can board members of color manage the perception in some communities that charter schools boards are all white and conservative?
  • Boards need to bring the lens of race to discussions about discipline, and ask whether students of color are disproportionately identified for discipline measures and how discipline policies impact school culture. 
  • How can board members and school leaders of color confidently make inroads in the mostly white philanthropic community? Are white-led organizations more easily able to access funding? What impact does this have on schools?
  • What role should the authorizer play in documenting, encouraging, or requiring attention to issues of diversity and inclusiveness?

And finally: Choice without quality is not choice. Accountability is key for traditional public and public charter schools if we are to have high quality schools for all students.  

These conversations are just beginning, and we’d like you to be part of them. We invite you to join us:

We’ll use your experiences and feedback to inform our continued discussions on these issues, with a growing circle of participants and stakeholders. Thanks for joining us on this journey.

Thank you to our partner Latham & Watkins for hosting this gathering, and to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, and the Walton Family Foundation for supporting our diversity, equity, and inclusiveness work.