Hoang Murphy (TFA Baltimore '14) believes that fighting for educational equity is about more than changing policies.
He engages with the communities and students most affected by inequity while breaking down the structures that perpetuate it.
Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?
I went to school for the very first time when I was eight, and attending school quite literally saved my life. A third-grade teacher saw that I was in danger and triggered the systems in place to protect children like me.
That moment changed my life's trajectory. I went on to graduate from high school and was the first in my family to go to college. It is the reason I became a teacher.
As a result, I am passionate about education — and about improving education systems — because every student deserves to have the opportunities I went on to have.
It shouldn’t come down to just one teacher saving a child; we need all adults and systems working together to make sure that every kid gets what they need and deserve.
How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?
I like to think that I am a student of LEE’s programming. Of the programs that fit my interests and experience, there is very little that LEE has provided that I haven’t participated in, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities. LEE has provided many avenues for me to develop as a leader and education advocate.
When I started teaching, I knew I wanted to impact the education system in a more holistic way, but I didn’t quite know how or in what capacity. LEE helped me clarify my role in the movement and develop the skills to grow in my career.
I also know that LEE will be there for me if I see a need to further define my role or change my path altogether.
Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?
After serving in the U.S. Department of Education, I knew I wanted to be back in my home state of Minnesota. LEE gave me an opportunity to get the lay of the land in my state while engaging with folks passionate about changing educational outcomes for kids.
As much as I care about and am personally invested in ending educational inequity, I know that I can never care more than the parents and students who are themselves impacted by inequity do. Their educational barriers are real and urgent. Talking with them reminds me of why we do this work — and that we must do it with, not to or for, them.
Through the fellowship, I also really enjoyed meeting with other advocates and learning what or who brought them into education. Any chance I can get to be in a school building, or meet with a parent, student or community member is time well spent, and I am grateful for opportunities that allow me to do that.
What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?
When I was teaching, I saw smart, caring, hardworking people trying their very best and showing results, only to come against a tide of other harms that prevent systemic change — particularly inequitable funding for schools.
Inequitable funding results from many different policies, but the most impactful one is the concentration of low-income or government-sponsored housing that reduces communities’ and schools’ fiscal capacity.
The problem was further exasperated by the housing collapse and its uneven recovery, which discriminated against certain income groups and, by default, specific ethnic and racial groups in concentrated communities. This caused further harm because the controlling municipalities needed high property taxes to offset the lack of revenue, often disincentivizing home ownership and forcing out middle- and high-income earners from the communities that would most benefit from having them.
There's a resulting policy of indifference that causes discriminatory practices in vulnerable communities, as well as a political incentive to not spend tax dollars based on need. It is what prevents good schools from existing in poor communities. Until this is changed, communities will not be able to lift schools out of poverty.
What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?
I am still considering the various ways I can effect change at the federal, state and district levels. I do not yet have a full grasp on what role would be most impactful and fulfilling for me, but my present goals are to build upon my organizing and political experiences to impact education.
I hope to someday have a significant impact reforming education systems at the district and state levels through political and policy action. The work of superintendents and education secretaries most appeals to me at the moment because of all of the executive policy levers available to those offices. First, though, I want to better understand organizing and the political power derived from doing it effectively.
I fundamentally believe in the power of effective policy, but I see so much of it being done without the people it most impacts. I want to continue to learn how to change that.