Meet the Expert: Monique M. Chism
Monique M. Chism, Ph.D., a vice president for Policy, Practice, and Systems Change, leads AIR’s six federally funded comprehensive and content centers and District and School Improvement portfolios. Prior to joining AIR, she served as deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. She also brings experience from the Illinois State Board of Education, Learning Point Associates (now AIR), and her time as a teacher.
POSITION: Vice President, Policy, Practice, and Systems Change
AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Cultivating Equitable Systems, Closing Opportunity Gaps, Federal Programs, District and School Improvement, Systems Change, Continuous Improvement
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 20+
Q: You were serving as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education when Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). What is your biggest hope for ESSA over the next year or two?
Monique: One thing that I was excited about when ESSA passed was the focus on making sure every child had access to high-quality education. I was also happy to see that there was a transition of flexibility back to state education agencies. My hope for the implementation of the new law is that states will be innovative, take hold of that flexibility, and focus on making sure their systems are equitable and provide a high-quality education to all students. My hope for the next two years is that educators across the country will have courageous conversations followed by action about the seemingly intractable problems facing our education systems.
Q: What's the biggest challenge facing state education agencies today?
Monique: Inequitable funding. When the majority of funding comes from local funds based on property taxes, it's hard to make sure that students who are in underserved communities have the same access to resources. I think one of the biggest problems facing education agencies today is figuring out a funding formula for districts and schools that ensures equity and funding based on student needs rather than zip code.
Q: What do you think would be most effective in advancing equity in education?
Monique: My bottom line is always that teachers matter most. I think if you pay teachers a fair and livable salary, you recruit and retain highly effective educators. If you also equip them with the skills to meet diverse student needs, you can start to solve some of the equity gaps that we currently see.
Q: What does your typical day look like as a vice president at AIR?
Monique: Each day is unique and different. I spend a significant portion of my time working with the project directors to provide guidance, help problem solve, plan for future work, and leverage existing opportunities. I collaborate with other VPs to identify resources, information, and tools that will support our work. I try to do several public speaking events a month to help elevate the work we are doing at AIR and make connections to the field. And I work to build on and grow AIR’s education portfolio, delivering high quality services that improve education systems for students who are trapped in underperforming education systems.
Q: What would you say to someone currently considering a career in social science research and consulting?
Monique: Your work will make a difference in people’s lives and in communities.
Q: What's your go-to professional resource?
Monique: My professional associations like the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and organizations like The Education Trust.
Q: If you didn't get into this field, what would you have done instead?
Monique: I wanted to be an actress.
Q: What's the last great book you read?
Monique: Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Q: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?
Monique: My father, who passed away last year; Oprah Winfrey; and former President Barack Obama.
Q: Where can we find you on a typical Saturday afternoon?
Monique: Hanging out with family, friends, and my dog Mimi.