December 1, 2016
Introducing BELE: A Network for Advancing Equity in Education
By Lindsay Hill
Program Officer, Raikes Foundation

In the United States, race and class remain the most reliable predictors of students’ academic achievement. Despite increasing investments, raising academic standards, focusing on teacher quality, and expanding charter schools the post-secondary completion gap between students of color and their white peers has increased in the last few decades. Our public school system and our nation are becoming more diverse while inequities remain entrenched. We must reimagine an education system that is finally responsive to the needs and experiences of students of color and those from low-income backgrounds and allow these young people to fulfill their potential.

Building upon the Foundations for Young Adult Success, the most comprehensive look to date at what research, theory and practice identify as the building blocks for lifelong success, the Raikes Foundation is bringing together ten nonprofit organizations to participate in a three-year learning network that will use the science of learning and development to advance equity in the schools they support. Collaboratively, these organizations will develop practices, tools, policies, and interventions that close opportunity gaps for those most marginalized by our current system.

Our aim is to dramatically narrow the opportunity and achievement gap for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds by transforming schools into places of rich opportunity for students to learn and develop.

The Building Equitable Learning Environment (BELE) Network was co-designed and will be supported by an innovative and diverse set of “Learning Partners” with expertise in the areas of the science of learning and development, equity, and scaling movements:

  • The UChicago Consortium will act as the “hub” for the network by coordinating learning network activities and providing individualized support on non-cognitive measurement and expertise grounded in the developmental framework: Foundations for Young Adult Success.
  • The National Equity Project will provide coaching, equity leadership and team development, and design and strategy support to advance student-level and internal equity goals.
  • PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales) will support grantees in data collection and translating and using research, supporting the development of new tools and interventions.
  • The Billions Institute will provide support in improvement science, scaling methods and design, organizational development, and innovative movement building.

The BELE Network members are a diverse set of nonprofit organizations focused on supporting schools and systems to transform teaching and learning. They understand that learning environments influence not just students’ academic achievement, but also their broader development and have made a commitment to helping the students they currently serve least well. 

  • Office of Equity Oakland USD has an impressive track record of grassroots, community based partnership and a focus on addressing systemic racism, particularly with the school system’s most underserved demographic, African American males. The Office of Equity has successfully developed a culturally relevant curriculum, recruited and supported African American male teachers, and developed student-level interventions to unlock the potential of African American boys.
  • Equal Opportunity Schools supports more than 100 school districts across more than twenty states to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in challenging high school courses. EOS provides intensive training for school leaders to enable them to find “missing students” and implement the changes necessary to ensure that underrepresented students are successful in these challenging classes. By shifting the narrative of who is successful in advanced courses, EOS increases students’ sense of belonging.
  • BARR provides support to students in the transition to high school in order to reduce chronic course failure rates for 9th graders, which is key to further success in high school. Their model has been rigorously tested and proved successful and the organization is committed to bringing more of an equity focus to their work.
  • Teaching Excellence Network (TEN) is a survey platform and feedback tool for teachers that aligns the voices of educators, students and families to build schools that are responsive to their communities, which has historical blind spots for many systems and schools serving communities of color. The emphasis on student, family, and community voice allows teachers and schools to meaningfully reflect on how students, families, and communities are experiencing the school environment. The professional development that TEN provides focuses on key areas that teachers can improve in order to be more responsive to their students’ needs.
  • Umoja is a unique school-community partnership model embedded within high poverty neighborhood high schools. Umoja’s unique competencies include restorative justice and broader student development. They equip teachers, staff and school leaders with the knowledge, skills and tools essential to increasing on-track and graduation rates, decreasing disciplinary infractions and increasing college enrollment.
  • The Network for College Success (NCS) partners with high schools to strengthen and support the quality of leadership, instruction and students support to transform schools into learning organizations that increase graduation rates and college readiness.
  • EduGuide seeks to narrow gaps in student success by empowering people to work together with research-driven tools. Their vision is to transform thousands of schools into communities that equip more than one million students to mentor their peers in skills, habits and mindsets to become self-driven learners to achieve their goals. They equip schools, colleges and community organizations to collaborate in mentoring students to build non-cognitive and social emotional strength.
  • EL Education works in communities across the country to ensure that all students master rigorous content, and produce high-quality work. Created more than 20 years ago out of a collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound, EL Education provides whole school support to a network of schools in both rural and urban areas.
  • Summit Basecamp brings Summit Public Schools’ personalized learning school model and framework to schools and districts across the country. The backbone of the personalized learning model is Summit’s Personalized Learning Plan tool, which was developed by Summit teachers, school leaders and in partnership with a volunteer engineering team at Facebook. It allows students to set goals, make a plan and reflect on their work. They can access their learning resources at any time, see their growth and performance across their academic career and connect their daily decisions and behaviors to their long term goals and aspirations
  • Transcend works with school operators across sectors to provide research and development capacity that supports visionary education leaders to build and replicate breakthrough learning environments. Transcend approaches each partnership flexibly, including with individual school operators, groups or networks.
  • Turnaround for Children connects the dots between science, adversity, and school performance to catalyze healthy student development and academic achievement.  

We will be sharing what we’re learning through a variety of channels over the next three years and are excited by the possibilities of connecting these innovative organizations so they can share and learn from one another and apply their expertise as a group in the important work of closing the opportunity gap for students of color and low-income students. In doing so, the BELE Network aims to develop a set of research-based, scalable practices, tools, and interventions that can be adapted by schools and districts across the country. The network will also develop aligned recommendations for the policy, teacher prep, and teacher professional development sectors. Stay tuned to our blog for the latest news and information from this journey.