Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, February 19, 2013
How do you decrease the achievement gap and increase equity — and excellence — in America’s public schools?
For starters, reform the funding systems that so often mean a child’s access to education is determined by his or her ZIP code. Then elevate and reform the teaching profession, ensure access to high-quality preschool, meet the non-school needs of students from high-poverty communities, and shift the system of educational governance to improve equity.
All big — almost impossibly big — goals.
The Equity and Excellence Commission, which recently released its final report to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has already achieved one somewhat remarkable goal: unanimous acceptance of the broad-reaching recommendations that the commission believes could turn around American public education.
Given that the commission members include union leaders; district, state, and federal education officials; civil rights leaders; and top thinkers from all sides of the education-reform debate, that is no small feat.
“This is a call to action that we can and we must and we should do better for our children, and for communities who have historically been denied opportunities … and in doing so, strengthen our country,” said Secretary Duncan, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
The report clearly lays out the scope, and importance, of the challenge: Math results that show the average African-American eighth-grader performing at the 19th percentile of white students, and the average Hispanic eighth-grader at the 26th percentile. International testing results rank US students 27th for math, and show just 1 in 4 American students performing on par with the average student in countries like Singapore and Finland.
“Our education system, legally desegregated more than a half century ago, is ever more segregated by wealth and income, and often again by race,” asserts the report, adding that “simply achieving a 90 percent graduation rate for students of color would add as much as $6.6 billion in annual earnings to the American economy.”
The commission recommends a complete overhaul of the current system of recruiting, training, compensating, retaining, and evaluating America’s teachers, along with incentives to put effective teachers in high-needs schools.
More than anything, said Mr. Edley of Berkeley Law School, he and other commission members hope the report becomes a “new polestar,” focused on equity and excellence, around which to frame education-reform efforts in the future — perhaps a replacement for the “A Nation at Risk” report 30 years ago which galvanized attention around education but hasn’t born the fruit its advocates were hoping.