How Education Innovation Clusters Advance Equity - Digital Promise

How Education Innovation Clusters Advance Equity

August 29, 2017 | By

Around the country, Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters) are working to address one of education’s pressing challenges – the deep inequity that persists in learning, opportunities, and leadership. How? By breaking down the walls that separate communities, resources, and stakeholders. Through collaboration, EdClusters are finding powerful opportunities to engage all stakeholders in reaching all learners.

EdCluster ecosystems gather educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, funders, and others to scale promising learning tools and practices. These regional networks become truly powerful with the partners they bring together. Collectively, they have the potential to advance equity by:

  • Including and engaging diverse stakeholders;
  • Sharing limited resources;
  • Equitably diffusing social capital;
  • Improving real-world learning opportunities for underserved students;
  • Engaging marginalized communities; and
  • Developing empathy, connections, and trust across racial, geographic, linguistic, and socioeconomic divides.

At the 2016 Education Innovation Clusters Convening, a powerful discussion was launched on the role that EdClusters can play in advancing equity. As one attendee put it, “If it’s not equitable, it’s not innovative.

But we also know that networks won’t necessarily be equitable, or automatically advance equity, on their own. As Sunanna Chand of Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network explained during our SXSWedu panel this spring, “While networks often form organically, we need to be intentional about designing for equity.” To that end, a working group of EdCluster leaders has been developing an Equity Toolkit to help EdCluster networks improve diversity and representation in their organizations, initiatives, and research. You can learn more about this work at the upcoming 2017 Education Innovation Clusters Convening.

In the greater Tucson, Arizona region, Josh Schachter, founder of CommunityShare, asks: “How do we as a community…create a more inclusive, equitable learning ecosystem?” Informed by Schachter’s work with immigrant and refugee students in the region, CommunityShare’s unique platform acts like a dating site to connect teachers and students with community partners who can offer real-world learning opportunities, mentoring, and expertise. By “democratizing” access to these collaborations, the program has worked to more equitably distribute social capital and learning opportunities in the region.

In the Bay Area, Nakeyshia Kendall has worked in a similar vein to re-think connections between schools and industry. This has also meant collaborating with teachers to “hack” school and empower them as innovators. Nakeyshia says, “I see the network that I’m starting as a way to unlock…opportunities for [historically underserved populations] and bring more people into the conversation that haven’t been a part of it for so long.”

That kind of stakeholder engagement has also been key to Malliron Hodge’s work in New Orleans with 4.0 Schools. “A lot of individuals are having conversations in these isolated silos but people aren’t having conversations together,” she observes. “So something that I’m really pushing, especially in New Orleans, is getting all stakeholders involved and engaging in a conversation to move things forward.”

In the heart of Appalachia, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) is empowering teachers and students to be entrepreneurs, innovators, and community problem solvers. While the statistics in the region can feel daunting, Executive Director Jeff Hawkins explains that KVEC operates from “an asset, not a deficit” model. Working with business leaders, researchers, and educators across the region, they are equipping students to re-build the 21st century economy in southeastern Kentucky.

Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network has redoubled its efforts to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in the region’s economic and educational rebirth. Josiah Gilliam of the Homewood Children’s Village, and who heads up Pittsburgh’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, explains, “There has to be an accurate assessment of the disparities and the challenges that are facing marginalized communities – communities that have faced decades of disinvestment, discrimination, toxic exposures, etc. to look at what are ways that a community can move forward.”

Sunanna Chand puts their essential question this way: “How do we rally through this collaboration of every single sector in a community, in collaboration between every single asset, to get every single kid exactly where they need to be?”

Pittsburgh, Tucson, Kentucky, and New Orleans are in good company with many other EdClusters around the country. Together, these networks are uniquely poised to dismantle historical barriers, seed new collaborations, and nurture the innovations that improve learning opportunities for all — not just some.

For more information about or resources on Education Innovation Clusters, email

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