The opportunity to learn — for ALL children

I’ve been writing lately about the abhorrant inequity of opportunity for our kids and the growing equity gap between schools serving wealthier communities and those mired in poor neighborhoods. While the reasons for this are complex, it persists because of a lack of political will to change. At the same time, political leaders and school reformers jump on the bandwagon of simply raising standards, requiring more frequent curriculum-narrowing assessments, ranking school performance, and firing teachers in low-performing classrooms.

Setting high academic standards for schools and students is important but relatively easy to do. The harder, yet more effective, strategy is to adopt and implement standards that create optimal conditions for learning. This means ensuring that all children, regardless of where they live, have access to high-quality schools. (Boykin and Noguera, 2011)

While having high expectations for each and every child to succeed in school is important, regardless of where they come from or where there school is located, in the end, all of the state, national and international tests and studies conclude its not enough. Yes, there are “pockets of excellence” sprinkled across the country but typically the results are not sustainable over the long haul and not replicable on a larger scale. Many factors go into creating successful schools and without adequate resources, the children who attend under-resourced schools are not likely to be successful.

…throughout the United States, public schools exhibit a high degree of inequality that is fostered by both inequities in per-pupil spending and the personal resources that families provide. Throughout the country, school funding policies are characterized by an allocation gap; we typically spend the most on children from the wealthiest families, and we spend the least on children from the poorest families. (Reed, 2001 cited in Boykin and Noguera, 2011)

As superintendents and other district leaders, we have a moral responsibility to ensure we collectively foster an educational system that provides equity of opportunity for all kids, not just the ones who attend schools in our own district. My state of Michigan in particular has done poorly at closing the equity gap despite the promises and intent of Proposal A in the mid-1990’s. The state has taken over responsibility for public school funding yet our political leaders continue to perpetuate a system that fails to recognize that a growing number of children have significant disadvantages that require more resources to be successful in school. These deficiencies are not effectively resolved simply by raising the bar on the tests or opening more mediocre charter schools.

Closing or at least reducing the opportunity gap is essential if disparities in achievement are to be lessened. We should not be surprised to find that disadvantaged students…do not perform as well as affluent students who attend schools with abundant resources. Inequality in school funding, combined with a pervasive and growing inequality in income and wealth, creates an environment that makes closing the achievement gap challenging. It is unreasonable to expect that poor children will do as well as middle-class children if we ignore these inherent disadvantages and pretend to promote equity by holding all students to a common set of academic standards. (Boykin & Noguera, 2011)

I encourage you, if you have not yet done so, to read my posts below from earlier in the week. They expand on this topic and include specific examples of how inequity in funding impacts education. Then I encourage you to act.

K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity

Successful School Reform Must Include Equity of Opportunity in Funding

Setting High Standards for All But Ignoring the K-12 Opportunity Gap

Citation: Boykin, A. Wade and Noguera, Pedro. Creating the opportunity to learn: moving from research to practice to close the achievement gap. ASCD, 2011.

About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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