Q&A with Wes Moore

Last month, nearly 1,000 community members tuned in for a virtual conversation with best-selling author and Robin Hood CEO, Wes Moore around race, class and educational equity in Central Texas and collaborative next steps we all can take to dismantle system barriers to educational opportunities in our communities. Here’s what we learned.

Though it’s a unique and historic event that really has no parallel in how it is disrupting lives and education in particular, we have seen researchers predict that the pandemic will cause students to lose months of learning, perhaps more. And, we are already seeing the profound impact on college enrollment with National Student Clearinghouse reporting a 16% decrease in direct college enrollment for the class of 2020. Some are calling this a generational change in outcomes.  

What insights do you have on the impact of the pandemic on educational outcomes? Will it affect some communities more than others? What strategies do you believe can be utilized to mitigate the harm.

Wes: The pandemic has highlighted not just the fact that it has had disastrous impact, it’s also exposing the fact that  EVEN BEFORE the pandemic, before anyone knew what covid was — we had serious issues when it came to disparities of education. You could not talk about these issues without understanding the issues of race. So when we are talking about what we’ve seen in terms of education, we’ve seen exactly what is very predictable – The most vulnerable in the most complicated situations were going to be the first hit and were going to be hit the hardest.

 

One of the hopes that we have that could come from the pandemic is that the experiences of those who are encountering the barriers of post-secondary education have a chance to have their voices heard and lifted. At Breakthrough, we recognize that the true experts on the barriers to postsecondary education are the students themselves.

What can education institutions, policy makers, organizations like Breakthrough and our community supporters do to better listen to and learn from students, recent graduates, and their families about their experience and their ideas?

Wes: It becomes our core responsibility to engage the end user in all of this — the student; that we are asking them: “what are the biggest challenges?”; “What are we seeing now in this virtual environment that is the most complicated for you to adapt to?” Let those things lead our policy discussions. Let those things lead resource conversations. The reality is that there is no one who understands what the needs are better than the kids who find themselves at the end of it.  If we are in rooms where students are not involved in conversations, then those rooms are fully incomplete. If we are actually having debates about how we can inject capital into certain frameworks, and students aren’t involved in that conversation, then we aren’t having genuine conversations. This is where this big push has to exist on how we can just be remarkably deliberate about how we change our frameworks. 

Many community members have recently asked, “What can I do?”

What would you encourage community members to do to promote educational equity? How can all of us continue to learn about the complexity of this issue and raise our voice in support of systemic change?

Wes: When we’re talking about educational equity this isn’t important, this is everything.  Every single issue we are debating and discussing is going to be premised on us getting this part right. I think how we can navigate it is absolutely crucial in this bigger conversation. Additionally, never forget about the influence of your voice on the policy conversations, because in many ways in both  philanthropy and social service work, we play a dire role. But, part of that role, unfortunately, is that we are filling in the gaps because there are still policies in place that are putting and keeping our children on a backwards end of a cycle of progression. Let’s never forget about the influence of our voice to impact that.