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Educational Equity Begins With Racial Equity

Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard shares learnings and action items from a racial equity assessment.

By Elisa Villanueva Beard

May 13, 2021

Dear Teach For America Community, 

Each of you in our Network works to create a fundamentally different experience for our students, so that all children in our communities will be on the path to live a life filled with possibility. That work is even more urgent now, in this defining moment for our kids and our country, as we begin our recovery from the pandemic and pursue racial equity. Together, we have the opportunity to do more to have the greatest possible impact on our students and communities. 

Our resolve to achieve educational equity is grounded in our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness (DEI) and our pursuit of racial equity.  As part of our ongoing work to fully live into that, we recently shared learnings from an equity assessment completed in partnership with the Racial Equity Institute (REI) with members of our staff and want to share those insights with you as well. 

Last June, Teach For America launched an effort to better understand the perspectives of our staff, corps members, and alumni related to DEI, raise up the experiences and expertise of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) staff communities, and co-create an action plan to meet our DEI commitments. After hearing from our staff and Network community, in August I shared nine actions Teach For America committed to accomplishing to fully embody our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. Over the course of the last eight months we have been in communication on progress toward those goals, and are on track towards realizing all nine actions - from updates to our admissions model, and announcing our Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness, to bringing you into our partnership with the Racial Equity Institute. 

The Racial Equity Institute’s partnership with Teach For America is two-fold: 1) to host racial equity training for every staff member, national board member, and regional board member and 2) to conduct a racial equity assessment of the organization.

In order to complete the racial equity assessment, REI has spent the last 7 months listening, learning, analyzing, and applying a racial equity lens to the organization’s systems and policies. They hosted focus groups, conducted 1:1 interviews, reviewed social media, and read letters from staff, and our corps members and alumni. We acknowledge and thank our former staff and members of our network, particularly people of color, who have shared through their lived experiences when we had not fully lived into our commitments and how we wish to be as a community. 

REI has taken a deep look at our staff lived experience – not just our quantitative data, but what many are seeing and feeling every day. These insights are critical to pursuing our mission and having a greater impact with our students and in our communities. 

From REI’s work with us, we are taking away three key actions Teach For America will immediately begin working towards:

  1. Adopt a Racial Equity Orientation: Our commitment to DEI has led to real, meaningful, progress - and it alone is insufficient. Racism is pervasive in every system in society. We need to move from a singular focus on DEI to a more expansive lens that centers racial equity.  Everything we do needs to be informed by an understanding of the powerful and pervasive nature of systemic racism if we are to create the conditions for a thriving experience for all. This means building, deepening, and acting from an understanding of the central role of systemic racism, and the devastating role of anti-Blackness as a core feature of systemic racism in America.

  2. Deepen Accountability to Communities: Enduring change requires a large and diverse movement, with students, families and communities at the center. As we pursue our ambitious 10 year goal to work together toward putting students on a path to economic mobility and co-creating a future filled with possibility, our approach must be rooted in new and deeper relationships in communities, holding ourselves accountable to achieving this for and with students and communities.

  3. Strengthen Core Talent Practices and Build the Capabilities Needed to Transform the Organization’s Culture: Since the experiences of our Network emerge from the structural practices within the organization, we think it is critical to start with staff to strengthen the overall experience of everyone who interacts with the organization. We need to build on and strengthen the core talent practices of the enterprise to both maintain and build from traditional DEI measures, address vital gaps in the lived experience of staff members, and build the needed capabilities to create a community with a strength of connection that nurtures a sense of belonging.

REI’s racial equity assessment is available on our website. We are overwhelmed with gratitude to both the Racial Equity Institute for their partnership and every staff member, corps member, and alumnus for  their energy and willingness to participate in this process. Thank you to those who spoke to them, shared feedback in writing or via email, and helped make this process stronger.  

Finally, if you want to learn more  about what we learned from this process and our path forward in our work toward racial equity, I invite you to join us for a virtual learning space hosted by TFA’s Chief, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness, Dr. Barbara Logan Smith, or other senior leaders at Teach For America.  Please RSVP and let us know which session(s) you’d like to attend. Thank you! 

In partnership,



Webinar Audience


Time (EDT)

Regional Collective Boards

Monday 6/7


Regional Alumni Boards

Tuesday 6/8


Regional PRISM Boards

Wednesday 6/9


Full Network

Thursday 6/10


BIPOC Alumni

Monday 6/14


Full Network

Wednesday 6/16


Current Corps Members

Monday 6/21


Former Staff 

Tuesday 6/22


Incoming Corps Members

Wednesday 6/23