How Equal Opportunity Schools ensures equitable access to education for all students
At Box, one of our core values is to 'Make Mom Proud'. To us, that means always trying to do right by our colleagues, customers, and the greater community. Through this series, we'll be highlighting the amazing work of the Box community who work hard, day in, and day out, to make the world a better place. Today, we’re excited to share our conversation with Dr. Sasha Rabkin, Chief Strategy Officer at Equal Opportunity Schools.
What is the mission of Equal Opportunity Schools?
Equal Opportunity Schools’ mission is to ensure that students of color and low-income students have equitable access to America’s most academically intense high school programs and succeed at the highest levels.
What was the inspiration for the founding of this organization?
EOS was founded on the unwavering belief in the power, genius and talents of students of color and low-income students along with a recognition that these young people are under-identified, under-enrolled, and under-supported in advanced academic pathways, specifically in courses like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
Our founder, Reid Saaris, first noticed this in high school when he ended up on a different academic track than his close friend. His curiosity and passion to understand this discrepancy led him to a career in teaching and that’s where the idea of EOS was born. During his time as a teacher, Reid discovered the persistence of segregated opportunities across the education system. EOS began with the idea that students could be identified, engaged, and enrolled in new and dynamic ways and that they would go on to succeed at the same level as their peers. He believed that these students were underchallenged, not underprepared. Reid incubated this idea in his own school and then went on to further grow the idea at the Education Trust, culminating with the publication of an Ed Trust Paper.
How has EOS adapted for an increasingly digital world?
EOS has consistently leveraged the power of technology for scale and has embraced the promise and opportunity of technology to further our mission. We’ve built our own web-based application to ensure ready access for our school partners to student level data; we’ve leveraged the power of Tableau to provide real-time data analytics much faster and more dynamically than the post mortem data most schools rely on; and we’ve made our surveys available on phones and tablets to ensure ease of access for students and staff.
In addition to all of that, as the realities of COVID-19 became apparent in the last few months, we translated all of our adaptive content – historically delivered in person – into online modules and platforms. That said, we also understand that racism and economic and racial inequities in our education system require more than technical solutions. Inequity is a problem created, managed and sustained by adults and they need training and engagement to change this.
What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing?
Aside from the ongoing and unresolved challenge of the reopening of schools during COVID-19 and how this impacts our work, the biggest challenges we face include:
- Tension between breadth and depth: EOS set out to solve the problem of inequitable access at scale. However, along the way we learned that solving for the question of access provokes a host of other adaptive challenges that we can’t ignore. Though we can provide our technical tools at scale, we are challenged by how to scale (or not) the deeper, transformative work that seems necessary to build equitable learning environments.
- Competition and innovation: Although we don’t have any direct competitors who can provide the mission-driven services, tools and capacities to our specific focus, there is significant investment capital that flows to for-profit education companies providing them with innovation dollars that nonprofits don’t as easily receive. This poses a challenge as we think about our own innovation. Our revenue model and philanthropy are good at keeping the trains moving, and sometimes we get enough to make improvements, but the reality is that nonprofits often lack the kind of capital investments necessary to compete.
- Broadening our impact: We have tools that do an exceptional job of making students visible and utilizing a host of creative factors to identify their talent and genius. Historically, we’ve applied these tools just to AP and IB. But there is a larger academic world that we haven’t touched. The challenges of adapting tools, exploring new uses and creating new conditions for impact are real and, in light of the emerging conversations about the future of education post-COVID-19, a challenge that we must embrace.
What has been your biggest learning the last few months?
As the realities of education under COVID-19 continued to evolve, it became apparent to us that we had tools that are needed now more than ever. We learned that we can adapt our work and that things that we held sacred about how we deliver our model could be changed and improved. We learned our value to our clients, seeing one of our highest renewal rates ever from our current client base. In addition to all of that, we learned who our most valued partners were, and who continued to push, struggle, evolve, and question right alongside us to respond - not just to the immediate crisis – but to the emerging conversation about the future of education.
What are you most proud of?
Honestly, we are thrilled to have survived and even thrived. In March, neither was a given. We weren’t sure who would renew, whether new districts would sign, whether our grants would be sustained. This was a challenging year for anyone associated with education, so the fact that we didn’t have to make cuts and that we have even added some staff is something that we don’t take enough time to acknowledge. But more than that, we are proud that we have adapted and that our district partners continue to see incredible value in the work we do. All in all, we are incredibly humbled by the way our tools are being used to help school districts navigate the crisis, while continuing to bring equitable access to education for all students.
To learn more about Equal Opportunity Schools and support their efforts to close the classroom equity gap, visit their website.