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Life isn’t always fair ... but education should be

Equity Assistance Center wins $8.5 million DOE grant to ensure that all students get a fair shake.

October 18, 2016

Doug McPherson

One school district needed training on cultural sensitivity for its front office staff. Another wanted a climate assessment to try and understand the achievement gap among its Latino students. One state-wide charter school hoped to create an institute on interacting equitably with families and students experiencing poverty.

Where did they turn for help?

The Equity Assistance Center.

Housed at Metropolitan State University of Denver since 2011, the EAC grew out of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and helps solve educational equity issues related to race, gender, national origin, economic status and religious harassment in schools. The center’s work has impacted the lives of thousands of underserved children in Colorado and throughout the western United States.

That work has not gone unnoticed. This fall the U.S. Department of Education awarded the EAC a grant worth $8.5 million to continue its efforts through 2021.

Jan Perry Evenstad, Ph.D., EAC director, said the center is mostly about offering training “to help to build kinder and gentler schools who are accepting of everyone.

“Schools request our services on problems related to equitable education and we help them solve those problems. It’s one of the real tangible ways MSU Denver is transforming its community and making education more accessible.”

In Colorado, for example, the EAC helped the Adams 14 School District improve its schools’ culture after a federal investigation found the district had created a difficult environment for Hispanic students and teachers. And in Colorado Springs, the center recently reviewed Falcon 49 School District’s policies to ensure compliance with federal laws around gender and sexual orientation.

Percy Morehouse, Jr., Ph.D., executive director of equal opportunity and assistant to the president at MSU Denver, said some of the grant money will go to assist and train K-12 school districts with disproportionate suspension, expulsions and disparate achievement gaps.

Perry Evenstad agreed and said males of color are disproportionately suspended or expelled even at the preschool level. “We want to spot underlying issues of race early on and identify how issues of race play out in our schools today,” she said.

On average, Perry Evenstad said the EAC handles about 120 issues annually, and starting this year, the center’s service territory will grow from serving six states to 16 states, commonwealths and territories.

In addition to serving Colorado, the EAC will also assist: New Mexico, Utah, Montana, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands.

“With the expanded geography, the staff will begin meeting the needs of new populations; they’re eager to rise to the challenge,” said Marilyn Chipman, Ph.D., educational equity coordinator for the EAC.

To stay up on the many developments in the educational arena, Chipman said EAC staff attend national and international conferences, and network extensively with colleagues.

MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan, Ph.D., said the grant illustrates how the federal government has “raised the stakes” in improving equity outreach.

“It significantly increased the scope of services we’ll provide and the geographic area where we’ll offer those services,” Jordan said. “One of the key reasons MSU Denver won this grant is because we responded with great partnerships. I am so proud of all the MSU Denver employees who were involved in this amazing effort.”

Britt Jung, a group leader at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., said research has shown that despite major progress in some areas, many students, especially students of color, continue to lack the opportunity of a quality education.

“We know our new grantees will provide all students with improved access to educational resources so that they may have the opportunity to succeed in school, careers and in life,” Jung said.