What if instead of saying we should educate all children, we said our goal is to educate each child? How might our decisions shift if we shifted our thinking about education goals from an undifferentiated mass of all children to the particular needs of particular children?
This was one of the challenges put forth at the first national town hall meeting of the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission in San Jose recently. Hugh Vasquez from the National Equity Project was invited to attend.
The purpose of the Commission is to collect information, analyze issues, and obtain broad public input regarding how the Federal government can increase educational opportunity by improving school funding equity. The Commission will also make recommendations for restructuring school finance systems to achieve equity in the distribution of educational resources and further student performance, especially for the students at the lower end of the achievement gap. The Commission will examine the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities that give rise to the achievement gap, with a focus on systems of finance, and recommend appropriate ways in which Federal policies could address such disparities.
Under the leadership of Congressman Mike Honda and the DOE, this Commission will produce a report at the end of this year with recommendations on how to restructure school finance systems to achieve equity in the distribution of education resources. That is not a lot of time to make systems-changing recommendations, and the 28 extremely busy members will be spending a chunk of it on town hall meetings. Besides the logistical challenges of producing a substantive report, there are basic questions of approach that emerged in their recent San Jose meeting.
Despite the use of the term ‘equity,’ there was still a lot of discussion about equal funding. What we know about education funding is that “equal” funding for all children is not the same as “equitable” funding. If we as a nation are going to bring about equity, we will have to direct more resources to those who need more in order to succeed. This could also be called investment. Each child deserves a quality education, we as a country need each child to have this opportunity, and paying attention to how we fund schools so that each child does have this opportunity is what this Commission ought to be promoting.
One comment jumps out from the transcript of their first meeting in February, available on the Commission web site, by Rep. Chaka Fattah, Philadelphia:
“There is no state in the union today where children coming from difficult circumstances are receiving the same educational opportunity as those in their wealthy suburban school districts… It’s as if we as a country are amazed that children with no water in the pool can’t swim.”