from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Campaign for Educational Equity 

s an effort to address the educational inequities in our society, which cannot be addressed by only looking at the schools, but which does require rethinking how we do schooling.

I first learned about it in an article in Teachers' College Record (disclosure - I have in the past served as a peer reviewer for this publication) written by Arthur Levine, President of Teachers College in New York City. It is entitled [Why Should I Worry About Schools My Children Won't Attend? http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=5150]. The title is from Anna Karenina, and I will offer a few extracts and comments below. You can also use the link above to read the entire article.

In this piece first published back in May, Levine explains how he gets the title:
The title for this essay comes from Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, specifically from a debate between the brothers Levin over social responsibility. Sergei, visiting his country sibling, argues the importance of hospitals and schools. "Can there be any doubt of the usefulness of education?" he asks. "If it's good for you, it is good for everyone." Konstantin counters, "Maybe all that is good, but why should I worry about setting up medical centers that I will never use and schools that I won't send my children to…?" Sergei changes the topic.

The article represents not Levine's answer to this question with respect to schools, but the consensus of Teachers College, the entire community. As he notes:
Last spring, the College completed a two-year strategic planning process. The overriding conclusion was that Teachers College should focus its efforts-teaching, research and service-on a single issue: educational equity, or what is often referred to colloquially as "the achievement gap."

The College has now embarked on a major initiative, the title of which appears in the subject line above, dedicated of closing
the gaps in educational access, expectations and outcomes between the most advantaged and disadvantaged populations in society.

If you remember the rhetoric of the Edwards campaign, about Two Americas, this initiative is addressing the reality that
Today our country has two education systems, separate and unequal. One chiefly serves our more affluent, suburban white children, while the other primarily serves low-income, urban children of color. There are great disparities between the two in teacher quality, curriculum, resources, facilities, funding, student achievement, graduation rates and college attendance.

Levine offers a number of statistics to show how broadly based within society the problem is. Let me just list the first three:
Thirteen percent of African-American children are born with low birth weight-double the rate for whites.

Median black family income is 64 percent of median white family income-and median black family net worth is only 12 percent of white family net worth.

Twenty percent of low-income children are without consistent health insurance, versus 12 percent of all U.S. children. Thirteen percent of black children are without health insurance, versus 8 percent of white children.

He lists ten more and that states

These disparities cannot be permitted to continue. As an institution, Teachers College has resolved to turn our energies and our efforts to a campaign to reduce them.

Levine then goes through a number key questions. I will give a sampling of part of the answer to each.

For Why Educational Equity? he addresses the issue of educational inequity, noting that
It is a moral threat: In an age when good jobs require higher levels of skills and knowledge than ever before in history, children are denied the education to acquire them, simply because of their parents' skin color or income.

He also explains why it is also an economic, a social and a civic threat, noting for the last
because our children's overall enfranchisement-their personal stake in society-so clearly mirrors their educational level.

As to Why Teachers College, Levine notes in part
We embrace the issue of educational equity because our community believes it to be imperative in a time when education is declining as a national priority.

He reminds us that educational excellence was largely a product of the baby boomers, and as their children leave school, they are no longer as oncerned with education because they (and as I was born in '46 this refers to me as well)
want health insurance, social security and elder care. The result is that education dropped from being the first or second priority on the national agenda during the 2000 election to number five in 2004.

We have had many efforts at school reform over the past 20+ years (A Nation At Risk was released in 1983). The results?
Suburban schools are indeed better today, but no urban school system in America has yet been successfully turned around. The Campaign for Educational Equity is intended to change that and to ensure that the children who attend poor schools are not forgotten. The TC community believes the equity issue should be as important to education schools as AIDS or cancer is to medical schools.

Levine then describes what the campaign will do. This part is exceedingly difficult to extract or summarize in any meaningful way. The key components will be research, dissemination, and demonstration projects. One key player will be research professor Richard Rothstein, who use to write the education column for the NY Times (and about whom I will make a separate posting tomorrow).

Certainly an effort like this must have some goals, some whay of seeing how it is doing. Levine answers the question of How Will Success Be Determined? with the following list of things they hope they have the ability to achieve:
Keep educational equity on the national agenda;

Increase understanding of the issue by the public, policy makers, practitioners and funders;

Serve as the primary convening authority on the issue for experts in the field and organizations working in the area;

Become the principal source of information on equity for policy makers and practitioners of the press;

Point to actions taken by policy makers and practitioners as a consequence of the Campaign's work;

Reduce the equity gap for some children.

In the rest of the piece Levine talks about historical precedence for Universities taking the lead in addressing social problems, with reference to Abraham Flexner, Thorsten Veblen, and also to the University of Wisconsin under Charles van Hise. Let me offer two paragraphs that give a sense of this section.

In doing so, they made a statement of profound importance about the mission of Teachers College and ultimately, of all colleges. They took a clear stance in a debate that has raged for as long as TC has existed, namely: Should universities be havens for detached scholars interested in knowledge for knowledge's sake, as educator Abraham Flexner and economist Thorsten Veblen suggested early in the last century? Or should they be engaged actors concerned with the most critical issues facing society, as former University of Wisconsin president Charles Van Hise championed?

Of course, real institutions are neither as detached nor as engaged, neither as scholarly nor as activist, as these polarities suggest. However, from its earliest days, Teachers College has committed itself to Van Hise's view of the university. And it is that view that guides us again now.

Those who have followed my postings know that I am passionate about education as both a social and a political issue. I have described the battle over public schools as ground zero in the war for the political future of this nation. I believe this endeavor by TC is an important step in addressing the inequities in our educational system, and are far more meaningful - and far more likely to make a positive difference - than anything and everyting contained in that abomination known as No Child Left Behind - testing ad nauseum and raising test scores does not address in any meaningful way the underlying inequities that are truly responsible for most of the the difference in performance about which so many claim to be so concerned. My experience and my observation lead me to the firm conclusion that the testing regimen on which we have embarked will actually exacerbate the educational inequities -- in order to close the so-called performance gap those students in schools containing large numbers of disadvantaged students will see their education increasingly limited and reduced to little more than test prepo, whereas those from the mroe comfortable environments will not have to restrict their educational activities as much because their students already perform substantially better.

Teachers' College has a long and distinguished history, although there will be those who will use that history against it and against this effort - after all, a major player in its history was John Dewey. I am sure there will be those who will attack this effort. To no one's surprise, I will not be among them.

If we do not address the INCREASING educational inequity in our nation and society, we will not survive as a democracy. One cn argue that democratic principles are in serious jeopardy as I write this, and I would not disagree. I acknowledge that there are othe battlegrounds that may seem more immediate. But we cannot afford to ignore the schools, because that is the future of us all.
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