By: Valarie Hogan, FellowPosted on February 22, 2013 Issues: Education & Title IX
Brown vs. Board of Education
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On February 19, 2013, the Equity and Excellence Commission, a federal advisory committee, released a report detailing the inequity in the American K-12 educational system and asking the Department of Education to take action. The Equity and Excellence Commission is made up of thought leaders in education such as Russlynn Ali, Michael Rebell, and Randi Weingarten, among many distinguished others. The Commission was responsible for advising the Secretary of Education on the disparities in educational opportunities that give rise to the achievement gap.

And provide advice, they did. The Commission did not pull any punches in its report, For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human ights lauded the release of the report, stating that “this report confirms what those of us in the civil and human rights community have long known: that our nation’s system of financing and delivering public education is badly broken and in need of a dramatic overhaul.”

The report outlines a five-part framework to guide policy-making:

  1. Equitable School Finance – creating a school finance system not tied to property taxes, so that kids in poor areas are not denied equal access to opportunity;
  2. Teachers, Principals and Curricula – creating systems for recruiting, retaining, preparing, licensing, evaluating, developing and compensating effective teachers – so that children from all socioeconomic backgrounds have access to effective teachers;
  3. Early Childhood Education – ensuring that children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten since many kids are already behind at this point due to unequal access to quality preschool opportunities;
  4. Mitigating Poverty’s Effects – putting a broad range of support services in place to promote student success and family engagement in school; and
  5. Accountability and Governance – stating clear goals and consequences for all levels of government, and ensuring national commitments are reflected in results on the ground.

This may seem like an ambitious task, but some of the groundwork has already been laid at the state level. For instance, the report suggests that states should identify costs of resources identified as needed “to provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity.” Numerous states have already completed “costing out” studies to determine these costs and distribute funding based on need, rather than zip code.

The study also suggests that the federal government should “explore mechanisms for promoting effective health services in schools” and support parent engagement. In New York, Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone is a great example of how additional support services can improve educational outcomes. The Zone provides support services ranging from “crumbling apartments to failing schools, from violent crime to chronic health problems” to children and families within a 100-block area in New York City, and with great results.

At the national level, President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech addressed the issue of early childhood education and recognized the importance of building a foundation for success during a child’s early years. The Department of Education has begun to recognize and promote innovation in teacher preparation and accountability through various programs, but so much more needs to be done.

Of course, reasonable minds may disagree on the “right” approach to reach these goals, but it is clear that something must be done:

Our education system, legally desegregated more than a half century ago, is ever more segregated by wealth and income, and often again by race. Ten million students in America’s poorest communities […] are having their lives unjustly and irredeemably blighted by a system that consigns them to the lower-performing teachers, the most run-down facilities, and academic expectations and opportunities considerably lower than what we expect of other students. These vestiges of segregation, discrimination and inequality are unfinished business for our nation.

Together, we can work together to finish the job that was started in 1954 with the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and live up to our reputation as the land of opportunity.

You can hear NPR interview some of the Commission’s members here.