Hoang Murphy (TFA Baltimore '14) believes that fighting for educational equity is about more than just changing policies. As a part of his work, he focuses on engaging with the communities and students most affected, while also breaking down the structures that keep the cycle of inequity going.
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 it quite literally saved my life. All because 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 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. 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 developed the skills to grow in my career. I also know that LEE will be there to help 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?
I knew I wanted to be back in my home state after serving in the U.S. Department of Education, and 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 in Minnesota.
I recently finished a LEE Community Organizing Fellowship with EdAlliies. The best part of that position was that I got to meet with other folks in the work, as well as families and students. 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 themselves. Their educational barriers are real and urgent, so talking with them reminds me of why we do this work — and we must do it with, not to or for, them.
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. This 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 in the housing collapse and uneven recovery that discriminated against certain income groups and, by default, specific ethnic and racial groups in concentrated communities. This causes further harm because the controlling municipalities need high property taxes to offset the lack of revenue, often disincentivizing home ownership and forcing out middle/high-income earners from the communities that would most benefit from having them.
This results in a 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 and, 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 levels of ability to effect change at the federal, state and district levels. I do not yet have a full grasp on what role is most impactful and fulfilling, 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 level 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, but I know I need 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.