Educational Equity- Legislative Solutions

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog:

Good Administration or governance requires knowledge.Our Democracy rests on the quality of public education.

The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions

1) Amend ESEA

  1. Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

  2. Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

  3. Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

  4. Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail)

1) Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

  • Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
  • Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
  • Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:
  • The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.
  • The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools
  • The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)
  • The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools
  • Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system
  • Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.