ERN Highlights: 2021 in Review

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

December 21, 2021

Strengthened Relationships to Push Education Equity

We were pleased by the confirmation of US Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, and we have been proud to work with him—both in his previous role as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education through our Connecticut chapter and post-appointment in his current office—to ensure equitable access to education and resources for all students.

Most notably, we successfully advocated to maintain statewide, annual assessments, require states to use recovery funds—which would specifically come from the $122 billion allotted to pandemic-recovery aid—to properly address learning gaps, and issue guidance prioritizing high-impact tutoring (HIT) as a proven intervention that falls within the recovery statute’s set-aside for “evidence-based” interventions. (Read more about these victories below!)


Advocated for Statewide, Summative Assessments

In coalition with various partnerships—we worked to ensure the maintenance of statewide, summative assessments in Spring 2021, and build support for the Spring 2022 administration of assessments.

We applauded Sec. Cardona for standing firm on the administration of annual statewide, summative assessments, despite pressure from opponents. ERN’s K-12 policy team detailed the importance of not using local tests in lieu of statewide, summative assessments—as doing so would undermine clear parameters laid out in ESSA that state standards and assessments must be the same, statewide, for all students in order to legally adhere to legislative decree and to fairly collect accurate data.

This summer, to lay groundwork that would help audiences better understand what exactly assessments are—and what they are not—our K-12 policy team put together a series of webinars called “Assessment Bootcamp.” Built around the idea of informing and engaging, each webinar in the series featured expert panelists and hosted an interactive Q&A session with the audience.

You can read a full wrap up of the “Assessment Bootcamp” series and learn more about key findings from the webinars here.

Assessments were also a focal area for our states this year. In the spring, ERN Colorado, working alongside Governor Polis, played a significant role in defending assessment administration, ensuring HB21-1125 to pause assessments for 2021 was replaced by HB21-1161, which would reduce the testing battery.


Pushed for COVID Relief Funding that Incorporated ERN Priorities

In the spring, we saw the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which will provide billions of dollars in vital funding to support school reopening, distance learning, and academic and social-emotional supports to help our children persist through these deeply challenging times.

To ensure that money from ARP is directly used for these purposes:

  • We hosted “Pandemic Pods for All: Utilizing COVID Relief Funds for High-Impact Tutoring (HIT),” a webinar featuring an expert panel that discussed exactly how funds from ARP can be used to implement HIT programs that would combat learning loss and accelerate student learning;
  • We worked alongside other advocate organizations to persuade Congress to statutorily require states to set aside at least $28 billion (of the $122 billion in total education recovery aid) for “evidence-based” interventions to address learning loss;
  • We urged the federal Education Department to require states to use recovery funds—which would specifically come from the $122 billion allotted to pandemic-recovery aid—to properly address learning gaps;
  • We helped persuade the federal Education Department to issue guidance prioritizing high-impact tutoring (HIT) as a proven intervention that falls within the recovery statute’s set-aside for “evidence-based” interventions;
  • We worked with state leaders in Colorado, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia to provide HIT to over 1 million students across these three states. The Colorado bill (HB-1234) serves as a model for states nationally, and was shaped significantly by our national and Colorado team; and
  • The ERN Connecticut team spearheaded landmark legislation that now requires districts to adopt the Science of Reading for literacy instruction, funded by ARP.


Urged the Abolition of Legacy Admissions

In partnership with crucial collaborators, this year we were able to substantially progress our commitment to ending the unfair legacy admissions at colleges and universities, which gives priority admissions to applicants who are children or grandchildren of University alumni.

This spring in Colorado, we saw a massive victory in the fight against legacy admissions when, thanks to tireless efforts of ERN Colorado Policy Director Prateek Dutta who introduced the bill idea to state lawmakers, Governor Jared Polis signed HB 21-1173 into law. Colorado is the first state to ban legacy admissions at public colleges and universities.

Polling conducted by ERN affiliate Education Reform Now Advocacy showed that 67% of respondents oppose the legacy preference (13% have no opinion), indicating that it’s high time colleges do away with the practice and take actionable steps toward a meaningful commitment to diversity and socioeconomic mobility.

Building upon this polling and Colorado’s success, we joined forces with the education advocacy group Ed Mobilizer to launch #LeaveYourLegacy—a virtual campaign that calls on college students and alumni to pledge to withhold donations until their schools end the discriminatory practice of applying a legacy preference in university admissions—a privilege of birth worth the equivalent of a 160-point boost on the SAT that disproportionately benefits white and wealthy students.

You can read more on legacy admissions and our ongoing work to end them here.


Called out Inequities in Virginia’s Higher Ed System

In the spring, ERN’s Higher Ed team released an issue brief, “Scratching the Surface: De Facto Segregation in Virginia’s Higher Ed System” that critiqued the state of Virginia’s higher education system. Their work found that, of the 15 worst public colleges and universities in America on working class and low-income student enrollment, one third are located in Virginia. The brief also noted that while 34% of Virginia 18-24-year-olds are Black or Hispanic, only three of Virginia’s 15 public four-year institutions of higher education enroll Black and Hispanic students at anywhere near a comparable rate—two of which are HBCUs.

Following the launch of the first report, ERN’s higher ed team also published deep dives on Washington and Lee Universitythe University of RichmondJames Madison University, and Christopher Newport University, calling out their lack of a meaningful commitment to diversity and their hypocrisy of inaction.

The team released a follow up with a second report that took a close look at the financial inequities in Virginia’s higher ed system. Additional publications include:


Launched Philos Conversations

While we couldn’t meet in person this year, we kicked off our virtual webinar series Philos Conversations, engaging local and national leaders on pressing issues impacting education reform.

As our series continues, make sure to take a moment to catch up on our previous Philos Conversations:

  • Part 1: The Politics of School Reopening with Former Chief Education Officer of Chicago Public Schools Dr. Janice Jackson and ERN’s National President Shavar Jeffries;
  • Part 2: Fighting Voter Suppression with Voto Latino’s founding president María Teresa Kumar, More Than A Vote’s Vice President of Election & Advocacy Jonae Wartel, Cofounder of Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown, and ERN’s National President Shavar Jeffries; and
  • Part 3: Reforming School Discipline with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and ERN’s National President Shavar Jeffries; and cohosted by ERN Connecticut.


Expanded Leaders of Color Program

Leaders of Color identifies, trains, and supports community-based Black and Latino civic leaders, empowering them with the tools and resources to advance educational equity and the broader cause of racial justice. Since the program’s launch in 2018, the program has seen:

  • 116 community leaders graduate.
  • 72% of graduates serve in community leadership positions like working on nonprofit boards; and
  • 30% of graduates campaign for political office.

In 2022, the Leaders of Color program is expanding its reach and impact. It will continue to serve its current sites: Memphis, New York, and New Orleans, while expanding to serve the entire state of Louisiana, and to Washington, D.C. The goal? Train 400 Fellows across the U.S. by 2023 to achieve increased education and wealth equity in Black and Latino communities.


Defended Public Charter Schools Program

Along with coalition partners, we mobilized supporters in the Senate—including several on the key committees—and persuaded the Biden Administration to seek $440 million in funding for charter schools, building on our work of well over a year to persuade the Biden team to chart a moderate course, despite aggressive efforts by charter opponents to eliminate federal charter-school funding.

Our Colorado team delivered wins for the charter sector through the budgeting process that included $2M in mill levy equalization to Charter School Institute (CSI) schools and killed legislation that sought to roll back charter authorizing and appeals.

In DC, ERN had several big public charter wins included in the fiscal year 2022 budget and financial plan, with critical investments that will see a fully-funded expansion of the school-based mental-health program to all traditional and public charter schools, and an increase in the public charter facilities allowance to 3.1% in FY 2024 and beyond so schools can have safe, well-maintained schools and enough space to learn.