“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today said his department would push for policies promoting equity in the schools for poor and minority students, in particular announcing plans for an Equity and Excellence Commission to promote fiscal equity among schools.”
What can this Commission accomplish? The Kerner Commission of 1967 (aka National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) was convened to investigate the urban race riots of the 60’s and is a good example of a federal commission investigating racial inequity. The Commission famously reported that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” It went on to state:
“To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values. The alternative is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society. This alternative will require a commitment to national action – compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on earth… From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and above all, new will…The major need is to generate new will.”
This could as easily be written today in 2010, 43 years later. Current data showing tremendous gaps in achievement and opportunity based on race and class leave us undeniably in a state that is in crisis similar to what was occurring in 1967. Can this new Commission build the needed political and social will for significant change?
One of the most significant and controversial findings of the Kerner Commission was its identification of the root cause of the race riots as black frustration at lack of economic opportunity resulting from white racism, which had led to segregated and impoverished inner cities and a lack of opportunity for black Americans. In 1998, a follow-up report commissioned by a private foundation, The Millenium Breach, found the racial divide had grown in the subsequent years with inner-city unemployment at crisis levels. The Millenium Breach found that most of the decade that followed the Kerner Report, America had made progress in improving race relations and inner city poverty. But then progress stopped and in some aspects was reversed by economic trends and government inaction. Let’s hope this Commission is as bold as the Kerner Commission was.