From the Blog

Local District Policy: A Valuable Tool for Change and Educational Equity

by Sarah Linet, J. Duke Albanese, and Glennys Sánchez

Header image for policy blog. Sign that says "Make This World Better"

After reading this blog, check out our local district policy toolkit for relevant tools and resources; make your voice heard in your school, district, and community.

For many educators, as well as community members, a reference to policy causes eyes to gloss over and attention to turn elsewhere—anywhere else. Rules, laws, regulations come to mind. “Do this, don’t do this.” All written in a style only lawyers can comprehend. It is totally understandable to view policy this way, particularly when it is couched in a process that is unfamiliar, not transparent nor inviting, and just tough to get your hands around. These realities can leave many educators, students, families, and communities out of the experience of creating district policy. The result: the very stakeholders impacted the most are left on the sideline.

The Role of Educators, Students, Families, and Community Members

The truth is, our public schools—a linchpin in our democracy—can benefit, even prosper, from broader participation in the shaping of local district policy. When policy is equitable and reflective of the community, schools are more effective in meeting the needs of their students. What more powerful and important reason is there for getting involved in the local policy-making process?

Policy is made at different levels and the attention is often on the latest school reforms emanating from Washington D.C. and the federal government or originating in state legislatures. Certainly, major policy at those levels—think No Child Left Behind and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—impacts local schools, educators, families, and students. In response, local school boards find themselves crafting implementation policies to adhere to new statutes or regulations enacted by their respective state legislature, state board of education, or Congress. But local district policy offers much more.

What Is Local District Policy?

Local district policy is an understated, unheralded, and under-utilized tool for supporting continuous improvement in our schools.

Procedures, positions, aspirations, and guidance—acted on and adopted by the school board or school committee—are all forms of local district policy. For those not usually involved in the policy-making process—educators, students, families, and community members—participating in and helping to create forward-thinking local district policy can be an effective way to improve the education experience for our children and youth.

While many local policies are about compliance—that is, they guide implementation of state and federal directives and other legal requirements—policies shaped locally can also be about advocacy, which means they are aspirational in intent and designed to move a district and its schools toward meaningful change and improvement. A local district policy-making process, strengthened by and grounded in a commitment to equitable community engagement, can produce local policy that is substantive and fosters change and improvement in practice and governance. Adopting important advocacy policies, such as those centered on assuring educational equity, can lead to a robust, productive process of engaging a broad array of voices.

Tools for Educators, Students, Families, and Community Members

But the maze of procedures, unfamiliar language, and sometimes exclusionary “ways of doing business” continues to serve as a roadblock for more people to get involved in the local district policy process. We have created a series of resources to help work through some of those barriers—places to start new kinds of policy conversations, and, hopefully, demystify some of what has made policy intimidating and exclusionary for so long.

Local district policy stands as an accessible and effective tool to bring change and improvement. Such efforts to codify important initiatives in formal local district policy have many attributes: protecting against staff turnover and the loss of a key school leader and voice; establishing a pathway to prioritize investments and provide adequate, equitable resources in annual budgets; and ensuring that our public schools honor, promote, and sustain a public process of broad community engagement in local district policy adoption.

Yes, local district policy is a good thing—a tool to be used by caring communities committed to elevating the effectiveness of their schools by ensuring equitable opportunities for each student. We hope these resources make it easier for you to do just that!