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Elise Cranston: Bridging the policy gap

  • Elise Cranston

Elise Cranston (TFA Greater Nashville '11) believes in the power of people. That is why she decided to learn more about advocacy through LEE programs like National Policy and Advocacy Workshop. Now, she works to make sure the students, parents and communities most affected by educational inequity are getting a seat at the table with policymakers.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this? 

I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and I attended high school in one of the most segregated school districts in the country. Throughout my college experience at the University of Alabama, I became more aware of the educational inequity in my own backyard and across the nation. These realizations motivated me to join Teach for America in 2011. Meeting my students and hearing their stories deeper embedded in me the commitment to fight for educational equity. Those experiences from the classroom stay with me and continue to motivate me every day in my work.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?

LEE has helped me immensely in my mission to end educational inequity. After I left the classroom, I joined TFA staff and I worked in international development for a few years. Ultimately, I knew that I wanted my contribution towards educational justice to be in the field of policy and advocacy — I just didn’t know where to start.

After looking into a few LEE fellowships, I reached out for career coaching to learn more about how to begin a career in advocacy. The coaching I received changed my trajectory and was instrumental in helping me get to my current position National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In addition to coaching, I joined the Policy and Advocacy Writing Program (PAWP) to further develop my technical writing. I was able to integrate the research and writing I was doing in PAWP with my current work to build a new long-term, equity-focused project. I cannot recommend these — and other LEE programs — enough.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

I work at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools on the Federal Advocacy and Government Relations Team. During this political moment, I believe charter schools are one of the biggest levers available to education reformers to move the ball forward for educational equity. My work involves developing our federal advocacy strategy and building out mobilization programs. With the school-choice conversation in the spotlight, I believe it is imperative that we continue to seek opportunities for the advancement of educational equity on all sides of the discussion.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.? 

It’s no secret to anyone in education that the voices of students, families, teachers and school leaders need to be the most amplified and are often the least heard. It is especially hard to authentically highlight the voices of those most directly impacted at the federal level. That’s part of what I see as the most exciting part of my work moving forward. I get to work as the bridge to the local level to learn more about the experiences of communities, and then share those experiences, challenges and successes with policymakers at the federal level. It’s an especially great day when I get to coordinate in-person conversations between these two groups. I believe that the best way to end educational inequity in the US is to continue to amplify the voices of those most impacted and continue to connect them with those that make decisions.

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision? 

I’m not sure what specific roles my future holds just yet. However, I am excited to continuing learning about and implementing effective advocacy strategies and serving as a bridge to communities. I plan on continuing in the fight for educational equity alongside parents and students for the rest of my career. Knowing I have LEE as a resource and network has been a huge part of my development to this point, and I imagine I will continue to leverage LEE throughout my career.