Congress’ Equity and Excellence Commission released a powerful report that decries our nation's lack of commitment to equity in education for all students. "For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence" is a seminal report and a nationwide call to action.
But will policymakers act?
We need more than lip service to equity from policymakers when our nation is wracked by economic recession, concentrated poverty and deep and persistent inequities. Twenty-two percent of school-age children live in poverty, and children of color are at greater risk of being denied high quality resources and opportunities. As the Commission report rightly points out, instead of getting serious about remedying those facts, "the current American system exacerbates the problem by giving these children less of everything that makes a difference in education."
The current national education policy is obsessed with standards and measuring achievement gaps, yet it does very little to address the "appalling inequities" in school funding, early education, teacher quality and resources for teachers and students that underlie those achievement gaps.
President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, state officials and local leaders must support a bold new policy agenda that focuses not on setting more standards, but on ensuring students have the resources they need to meet those standards. While the President’s commitment to early childhood education in his State of the Union Address is a positive first step, there is still much more that should be done.
The “Equity Checklist” below distills the most important policies put forward by the Commission and supported by advocates and organizers around the country. It is a blueprint of evidence-based proposals for ensuring equity and opportunity for each and every child.
Someone who supports equity in education supports:
1. A truly equitable school funding system that doesn't rely on property taxes as the primary funding mechanism, but incorporates state and federal funds, allocates extra resources to low-income schools and districts, and cushions education budgets in hard economic times.
2. Universal high-quality early childhood education for each and every single child.
3. A system to recruit, train, retain and support high-quality teachers in all schools and prevent inexperienced teachers from being clustered in low-income schools.
4. A complete system of wraparound supports including academic, health and social services and expanded and deeper quality learning time both in and outside the classroom. In providing these supports, we should focus on students in low-income, high-needs schools and districts.
5. School discipline reform that halts the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and prioritizes positive discipline policies that keep students in school and learning rather than barring them from the classroom.
While much of the checklist can be pursued on a state and local level, the federal government must play a key role in promoting, supporting and monitoring progress at all levels.