By: Naomi Shelton, Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund)
Equity has been a huge buzzword in the field of education this year. Education advocates and politicians alike have called for an increase in educational equity, but what does the term really mean? Equity is not Equality. Equity creates equality by prioritizing resources to students who need them the most.
For example, think of a typical track meet. There are five runners – each in their own lane. Each runner must run one lap around the track. The first runner to complete the lap, wins the race. Now let’s use this analogy to inform our understanding of equity.
Equality would mean that every runner would start the race at the exact same spot in their lane. However, the track is oval-shaped. If each runner began at the same spot, each runner’s distance to the finish line would be different. The runner in the innermost lane would run a shorter distance than the runner in the outermost lane. Sure, they would both start in the same spot (EQUAL), but the runners in the innermost lanes would have an advantage – in distance – than their counterparts in the outermost lanes.
This is precisely why track meets do not operate this way. Since the track is oval-shaped, each runner begins the race in their own lane, at different, equal distance, spots along the track; ensuring that each runner, runs the exact same distance needed to complete the race.
Now, think of our current public education system in this same context. Students – regardless of race, geography, household makeup – start on the same marker on the track. Some students, like the runner in the outermost lane, have to run harder and faster to get to the finish line. The barrier here is distance. In the real world, barriers include low-income, resource deprived neighborhoods, disabilities that require additional expertise, culturally negligent curriculum, outdated technology, inexperienced teachers or access to critical supportive services.
Meanwhile, the runner in the innermost lane has it a lot easier. They don’t have to run as fast or as hard to get to the finish line because of their initial position in the race. The barriers here are fewer in number. In terms of education, these innermost runners attend schools in affluent neighborhoods with a surplus of resources. These students have the advantage of local tax-based funding formulas, parent lead fundraising efforts and/or private funding, and state-of-the-art technology.
What we need is education reform that promotes fairness. Fairness equals equity. As Debby Irving in her book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race states, “Equality means giving all students the exact same thing to meet the same expectations. Equity means holding people of differing needs to a single expectation and giving them what they need to achieve it.” In other words, the playing fields need to be leveled. It’s critical that our public educational system undertakes reform – changes so that each student is given what they need to succeed.
Our education system should support students by allocating the most resources to students who are most in need, just as track athletes arrange themselves for fairer competition. The national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) targets dollars to the highest poverty schools and districts.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools could lose funding if they failed to meet statewide standards. But under ESSA, states cannot reduce funding by more than ten percent from year to year despite school performance. ESSA also attempts to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionally taught by ineffective, inexperienced, and/or out-of-field teachers.
ESSA requires that state and district report cards include the percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders as well as teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers teaching subjects out of their range of expertise. ESSA also seeks to relieve some teacher angst surrounding evaluation systems by ending the requirement for state teacher evaluation systems to focus significantly on student test scores.
ESSA gives power back to the states to control education policy. Now, members of the community must hold their school leaders and elected officials accountable to implement system-wide and school-specific measures that ensure equity in our schools.
Naomi Shelton has experience in education related community engagement both at the national and local levels and public administration. Currently, she is the Director of K-12 Advocacy at UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. There, she focuses on national education initiatives and community engagement efforts to ensure more African-American students are college and career ready. Naomi is currently a member of the DC Public Charter School Board, appointed by Washington, D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser. Her passion is educational equity. Follow Naomi on Twitter at @NaomiSheltonDC
The Ohio State Department of Education published its goals for White students at 86.3 versus 63.4 for Black students, as reported by the Performance Index Subgroup Data. The NAACP Leadership made this presentation to the Roberts Deliberating Club (RDC), which is comprised of Black professionals and business leaders, last month, where data was rolled out that they found to be incredulous.
“If this is true, why is the community not more aware,” said Atty Charles Mickens, an RDC member.
“We are trying to make the community aware of this disparity which is why we are presenting it, said George Freeman, NAACP President. “It took a while to ferret out the details.”
“In March 2018, the State Superintendent didn’t even know that he could require teachers to teach the State standards,” said Freeman.
“When we pointed out to him that he had the power to order the teachers to comply and as of August 2018, there was an official order to do so.”
It took time to dig into the details, but the Ohio Department of Education Superintendent DeMaria has ordered the teachers to adhere to standards for the first-time in history, said Freeman.
That might sound unbelievable, but in retrospect, it is hard to fathom, but thanks to the leadership of the local and state NAACP, there has been intense and focused attention on providing remedies long overlooked.
DeMaria responded to a series of questions posed by the NAACP Education Task Force, one of them being, “Are all Ohio Licensed classroom teachers required to teach the State Criterion Reference Standards?”
His answer in a written response in August 2018 “There is no legal requirement specifically directed to teachers relative to teaching the State’s standards”.
DeMaria followed with the statement “standards are what is tested, one might suggest a strong motivation to teach the standards.”
The response came following months of digging into the data to prove that the fault of the failures falls squarely in the lap of the administration of both the State and the school District.
“If they don’t require it, strong motivation obviously has not had an impact” said Dr. McNair, president of the RDC. The 20 years of published report card failures prove a strong motivation does not make a requirement.”
“We often battle the misperception that poverty is the cause for low performance, but data has proven conclusively that race is a factor not understood or factored in the equation,” said Jimma McWilson, who chairs the State NAACP Task Force on ESSA and Preventing School Takeovers and serves as the Secretary of the local chapter.
Indeed, Steubenville, which mirrors Youngstown with a 100% poverty student population, has targets much higher and performance much higher. The missing link is addressing the race factor specifically, said McWilson.
When the State audit of the District was released it validated this important flaw which is obviously a key to success for students.
“You’ve heard of students graduating with high GPA’s that struggle in college because of the lack of preparation. That preparation weakness is a signal that the grades were not standard, but subjective based on the classroom teacher,” said Freeman.
“We’ve been at this for several years and the consistent clear message is that many educators don’t know the legal ramifications of their positions,” said Freeman.
“The rhetoric around teaching to a test has been bandied about, but the standards are what is required on college entrance exams” said Jerry Sutton, CPA and RDC member.
“Things like this have been happening for years and more people need to be aware of them. We could have kept them (NAACP) here for hours,” said Sutton.
Dr. McNair commended the NAACP leadership for keeping a keen focus on these details.
“We find it unbelievable that the standards have not been required, but rather suggested. And the fact that the State targets are so low for Black students only reinforces the fact, as earlier reported, the failure is not on the parents or poverty or even the teachers. It’s the leadership. If teaching the standards is not required or inspected, it can’t realistically be expected,” said McNair.
“What makes it so unfortunate is the Black community and the children’s future is in peril as a result. It is unconscionable,” said McNair.
“The big challenge is the R word,” said Dr. McNair. “When race is discussed as a problem White people often have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the problem. The data clearly indicates addressing race, and not poverty only, is a leadership, and a strategic planning issue that must be addressed head on.”
The Roberts Deliberating Club meeting was held at Mill Creek Community Center on Glenwood Ave, Youngstown, in December 15, 2018. The following link is to the State report card with the targets for improvement.
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Wilson issued the following statement in response to the College Board:
“As a mother and a former educator, I was extremely disappointed to learn that Kamilah Campbell’s SAT score is being challenged after she showed marked improvement in the second exam. It is my understanding that the first test that she took was a practice round for which she had not prepared. Before taking the second test, however, she spent a significant amount of time studying and took an SAT prep course. Her hard work and diligence paid off and she increased her score by about 300 points.
“The College Board, however, is challenging her score and has suggested that Kamilah may have cheated. It claims to “celebrate when students work hard and improve their scores on the SAT,” yet instead of celebrating Kamilah, it is creating a perception that perhaps she’s done something wrong, which is preventing her from pursuing scholarship opportunities.
“I fully intend to look into this matter, but I am very concerned that this incident may send the wrong message to young people, especially those who need more incentive and support than Kamilah to push themselves to excel in school and pursue higher education.”
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a fourth-term Congresswoman from Florida representing parts of Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties. A former state legislator and school principal, she is the founder of the 5000 Role Models for Excellence Project, a mentoring program for young males at risk of dropping out of school. Congresswoman Wilson also founded and chairs the Florida Ports Caucus, a bipartisan taskforce that coordinates federal action in support of Florida’s harbors and waterways. The Florida lawmaker sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Civics education is popular again. As our democracy itself sits on a historic precipice, people from around the country are calling for a national renewal of civics education. However, more civics education by itself is not sufficient. This new political moment requires a new civics: one in which a quest for racial equity is front and center.
When it is taught at all, civics is predominantly presented as a stale and monotonous topic, in which democracy feels irrelevant to the majority of students’ lives. Conventional civics focuses primarily on how government works and does not acknowledge the lived experiences of many of today’s students.
That approach can harm our very politics. By definition, an effective democracy requires equal representation from all segments of the population. It demands the robust political participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial equity. That promise does not yet ring true in our country.
A new civics education, which centers racial equity as a cornerstone of American democracy, must explicitly address the political and social marginalization of communities that have traditionally been excluded from the formal democratic process. In doing so, we can begin to dismantle the barriers to civic identity and participation faced by so many young people in this country, particularly by young people of color. In this equity-focused civics education, students can develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.
Unfortunately, the word “equity” itself is now widely understood as a partisan ideal. In consequence, many education leaders and civics educators choose to approach the subject from a broad perspective, believing that a rising tide in civics will lift all boats. Without an explicit focus on educating for the promise of racial equity, however, there is a danger in perpetuating a democracy led by a privileged, often white minority, instead of a diverse, inclusive majority.
“Civics education should reflect the needs and demographics of the nation’s public school children…”
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Last fall, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker used Southern Door High School’s newly installed 3D printing lab in this small town near Green Bay as a backdrop to propose a $639 million increase in public school funding.
“We know that ensuring our students’ success, both in and outside the classroom, is critical to the state’s continued economic success,” said Walker, now in a fierce campaign for a third term against long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.
The Southern Door County schools, administrators say, got almost none of that money. In fact, the 1,029-student district—rural, losing students, and hampered by tax revenue caps put in place more than 20 years ago—had to make severe budget cuts this year and pull an extra $200,000 out of its savings account. If a referendum on the county ballot this fall allowing the district to exceed its revenue cap fails to pass, there will likely be more cuts next fiscal year.
The intricacies of Wisconsin’s school spending and whether districts like Southern Door need more or less money from the state has come to dominate the gubernatorial contest between Walker and Evers, both of whom have made their education records a high-profile piece of their pitch to Wisconsin voters in the November election.
Walker says that by leading the charge to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state with the passage of legislation in 2011 that stripped the bargaining rights of public employee unions including teachers, he’s saved the state more than $3.5 billion, while keeping property taxes low and expanding school choice. He has claimed his most recent budget provided districts with $200 more per student, though many dispute that fact.
Under Walker between 2011 and 2013, the state cut education funding by some $800 million, hitting some districts harder than others. Spending has rebounded since then, but Walker’s critics say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with inflation.
Evers says Walker’s budget cuts over the years crippled school districts’ ability to provide students with basic resources, causing massive layoffs and a teacher shortage across the state. He has proposed to boost spending by more than $1.7 billion…
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It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.
But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.
That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.
In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.
In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.
Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.
But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.
Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.
And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.
Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.
“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…
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