Education Trust founder Kati Haycock (left) onstage with President and CEO Denise Forte (right)

Education Trust founder Kati Haycock (left) onstage with President and CEO Denise Forte (right)

I’m not really the fangirl type. I mean, I love my Duke Blue Devils, the latest high-tech gadget, and, of course, a good, robust student-focused school board meeting.

But during Ed Trust’s recent staff retreat, I had the ultimate fangirl experience when I had the chance to engage in an insightful conversation with Kati Haycock, the amazing woman who founded The Education Trust more than 25 years ago. She is my mentor, my friend, and an absolute icon in the world of education advocacy.

In 1996, Kati saw the need to establish a student-focused education equity organization that would gather data on student performance, disaggregate it with an equity focus, and advocate for changes that would close achievement gaps. Her vision has resulted in positive change for students across the country, and particularly students of color and students from low-income communities.

The Ed Trust staff and I listened intently as Kati discussed the history of Ed Trust, its mission, and the keys to continuing to effectively advocate for students. Here are my six takeaways from her words of wisdom:

Ed Trust’s Biggest Accomplishment

Kati said the biggest accomplishment during her tenure leading Ed Trust was the passage of The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2002. The legislation drove the most important changes in the use of data to make the case for education improvement for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. NCLB made it clear that to be a good school in America, you must be good for all kids. Schools would not just be judged by their highest-performing kids, but also by their lowest-performing group. Disaggregating the data on student performance would shine a light on student achievement at all levels. That was a huge change in American education, and resulted in better reading and math scores, and an increased rate of college attendance.

Ed Trust’s Biggest Challenge Not Yet Achieved

Kati believes the biggest challenge to be achieved is dispelling the misconception that students of color and students from low-income backgrounds can’t learn at high levels, like how Black and Latino students are often shut out of AP STEM courses. It is a belief she feels is endemic both inside and outside of education, resulting in low hopes instead of high expectations. I couldn’t agree more, and we will continue to tell the truth and fight myths with data and facts.

The Power of Storytelling (aka the “Paul Revere” function)

Kati stressed the importance of getting data to parents, lawmakers, and community activists. But she also said data becomes actionable through storytelling. Transparency provided through data is a powerful advocacy tool when stakeholders truly understand it and make the connection to the work being done in schools and colleges across the country. The goal of Ed Trust has always been to be a leading voice on important education issues by giving stakeholders a nuanced sense of what’s happening— like our Funding Gaps webtool. Ed Trust will continue to produce impactful data, analyze it, pair it with grounded truth, and share it in ways that are compelling.

The Two Characteristics of Good Data

Kati said that good data creates urgency by showing, in powerful ways, the nature of the problem and what will happen if something is not done to quickly rectify the problem. But in addition to showing the hard truths, good data also gives us hope for a better future. So, there always needs to be the right balance between urgency and promise — because both are needed to produce action. Kati says the uniqueness of Ed Trust is our ability to discuss and learn lessons from the high-performing students, schools, districts, and states, as well as those who are underperforming.

Be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Change comes through force. Kati believes that we can’t feel comfortable if we’re not making others uncomfortable — and that includes partners. We must continue to be fierce advocates who are willing to say the hard things. She admitted that this can be a tough charge, especially when more and more issues are much more polarized.

Keep a Broad Group of Thinkers and a Narrow Focus on the Mission

Kati believes there is power in group think and encourages the Ed Trust staff to never miss an opportunity to collaborate with each other when making decisions. This is important to stay focused on the mission, because it’s easy to let outside influences convince us to steer the organization in various directions. Ed Trust can’t advocate for every issue, solve every problem. Historically, Ed Trust has had the most success by remaining laser focused on a narrow group of key issues that impact students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.