Thursday, June 11, 2009

Inching Toward Equity

Check out the full report Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America.

The report builds the case for charter schools and the solution for reform critiquing states who place a cap on the number of charters and students who can attend as locking students out of opportunities to learn. It also calls for the federal govt. to step in and authorize that states not have the ability to mandate caps, which can be seen as support for Sec. Duncan's recent statement wanting to withhold stimulus money from those states.

The report is definitely worth giving a critical read.


Inching Toward Equity

Gloria Ladson-Billings | The Forum for Education and Democracy
June 09, 2009

A few years ago, I was asked to be a plenary speaker at a conference of legal and educational scholars. In my typical fashion, I decided to give a speech that was designed to provoke. I had heard enough discussions about the differences in life chances between White and Black children, and between White children and the ever more visible Latina/o youth. I was especially tired of the “achievement gap” talk that far too often resulted in conversations about more tests, more short cuts to teacher preparation, and more charter schools (often via private corporation takeovers). I needed an audience that would get mad enough to look at the ugly reality of what is happening to too many children in this country.

I approached the podium and calmly announced the title of my address: “Can We at Least Have Plessy? The Struggle for Quality Education.” There were audible gasps when I announced that title and that is exactly where I wanted to begin with that audience.

One can imagine some of the substance of that speech, but it’s important to reiterate some keys points as we move into a new era of governing and new (and often frightening) economic challenges. In its 1896 decision, Plessy v Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court said that as long as Blacks had access to equal public facilities, there was no need for them to have access to the same facilities that Whites did. This remained the law of the land until 1954, when the Court reversed itself in the landmark unanimous decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. "In the field of public education,” the Court wrote, “the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place."

However, the real life, on-the-ground enactment of desegregated, equal access to public education remains more of a promise than a reality. My thesis was that it would be better to have a “real Plessy” than to continue with a “fake Brown.” Now, to be sure, no one is suggesting that Brown was not a significant step forward in race relations in the country. My point is merely that Brown, left unimplemented, does not move us anywhere near the equitable education we need and claim to endorse.

A real Plessy would mean that across this country, Black, Latina/o, American Indian, poor and immigrant students would have the same facilities as their White, middle-income peers. They would have a profession of teachers with the wisdom, qualifications and skills needed to provide high-quality instruction – not a “force” of novice teachers who, although eager, are unprepared and under-prepared to teach. They would have access to the same curricula and courses. They would have the same educational materials—textbooks, technology, science laboratory supplies, and fine arts supplies. And they would have the same funding to provide for their schooling.

Brown was a great moral victory. We needed it to remind us of who we strive to be as a democratic nation. Until we fulfill its promise, however, the Brown decision is nothing more than a symbol—a testament to missed opportunities and broken promises. Similarly, the recent election of President Barack Obama represents a powerful symbol of hope and possibility in our nation. But the reality of difficult problems means we cannot afford the luxury of a symbolic presidency. We need this moment of hope to mean something to the educational futures of millions of students throughout the nation.

The combination of an iconic Supreme Court ruling like Brown and a forward-looking President like Barack Obama should mean that our children are no longer captive to provincial thinking that renders them merely residents of a particular community, rather than citizens of a great nation. That great nation has certain obligations to every citizen and in the realm of education this means we must ensure equitable funding, we must provide an equal opportunity to learn, and we must adopt a fairer two-way system of accountability.

Attorney Michael Rebell’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in May 2002 still rings true. “Through inequitable and inadequate funding,” he said, “our states and the federal government have, for decades, consistently left behind millions of low-income, rural and urban schoolchildren as their wealthier peers take full advantage of the educational resources and opportunities that are made available only to them.” We must find ways to create more equitable school funding.

In their recent report, Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America, the Schott Foundation outlines four core elements that must be in place for all children to have an equal opportunity to learn:

1. A high-quality early childhood education;
2. highly qualified K-12 teachers;
3. a college preparatory curricula; and
4. equitable instructional resources.

Based on this formula, Schott reports, students from historically disadvantaged groups have just a 51% opportunity to learn when compared to White, non-Latino students. 42% of Black students are attending poorly resourced, low-performing schools while only 15% of White students are attending such schools.

We must guarantee all students and their families an equal opportunity to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment