The Woman Furthering Obama’s ‘Every Student Succeeds’ Quest

Lillian Lowery leads its agenda to focus attention on the nation's public schools

Lillian Lowery is a woman on a mission. The vice president for P-12 Policy and Practice at the Education Trust, the education advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., Lowery has deep experience in the trenches not only as a teacher of English, as well as a high school assistant principal and principal, but also as a state superintendent of schools for the state of Maryland and the secretary of education for the state of Delaware.

(Lillian Lowery. Image: edtrust.org)

 

 

Now Lowery is ready to take on the “really amazing work” of Ed Trust—which is working more closely with states to ensure that all students have access to the high-quality education they’ll need to secure a viable future.

 

ESSA and the States

 

I spoke with Lowery earlier this month, and she told me that now what’s pivotal for Ed Trust is “the devolution of accountability for school improvement and P-12 education at the state level.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed into law in December 2015, gives states greater responsibility for education and requires less federal oversight.

“Now that ESSA accountability has devolved to the states,” Lowery told me, “Ed Trust will pivot to being more deeply engaged in the states, holding up guardrails, providing research, determining with them what policies need to be improved, modified, or generated.”

Under the leadership of Ed Trust CEO John King, the Ed Trust is homing in on two main areas, Lowery says:

  1. School improvement
  2. Resource equity

“We’re asking questions—do all families have access to early high-quality universal pre-kindergarten? What about programs for gifted students? Are schools being funded equally—everybody gets the same funding; or equitably—schools are funded according to the needs of the students.”

 

Paying It Forward

 

Lowery brings a passion to her work that’s borne of her own compelling experience.

“I was raised in the segregated South by a single mother,” she told me, “plus, I’m black and female.”

It would have been easy for people to make assumptions about Lowery growing up—assumptions about how far she could go academically or professionally. But she says that the segregated community worked in her favor.

“In my community we had high school principals, attorneys, and black-owned businesses and banks. I woke up seeing salient role models, college graduates, professional black men and women, every day. My parents didn’t have college degrees, but my mother had people around her who helped her raise us.”

Lowery continued. “People might stereotype me based on my background, but we had role models that believed that children in the neighborhood should be given every opportunity to succeed.”

Lowery has taken the support others gave her and helped students in similar ways.

“I’ve had opportunities at jobs to pay it forward. My goal was to surround the students I served with the same kind of support that I had been given. I’ve spent my entire career paying it forward because so many people contributed to my success and to my mindset about what was possible.”

 

Taking it to the States

 

In many ways the Ed Trust is working to replicate the kind of supportive community in which Lowery grew up. The organization has selected 10 states to work with organizations and community leaders already on the ground to ensure that students are getting the education their ESSA state plans say they are.

“We’re going into states to help them reimagine what success looks like, to pull together for the common good for these students,” Lowery says.

“Our purpose is to give them tools for when they’re dealing with policymakers, schools, teachers, school leadership, what questions to ask and what they have a right to demand for their children. The goal is to train people to self-advocate, and give them technical assistance. We know that people in the community who have credibility will need to be the ones leading this work, so it’s vitally important that we build community.”

To learn more about the vital work of the Education Trust, visit its website.