Executive Perspective

Our Campaign for Equity
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, November 2017

AASA THIS YEAR has set a goal to position superintendents as equity thought leaders in education. The climate that permeates our country and seeps into our schools and classrooms is divisive and some would suggest permissive of intolerant behavior rather than the inclusiveness and equity we seek.

Who best to take on the role of champion for equity for children than the superintendents of the schools that serve those children?

The Brown decision was a major step toward equity, but last year a Government Accountability Office report showed 62 years later our schools are resegregating. Between 2001 and 2014, the proportion of schools where more than 75 percent of the students are poor, black and Hispanic increased from 9 percent to 16 percent.

The report also found that “compared with other schools, these schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science and college-preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended or expelled.”

Hurtful Policies
As had been the case in the years prior to the Brown decision in 1954, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students are not afforded the level of services and opportunities as less-segregated schools receive. Because of the way we fund our schools via property taxes, the zip code continues to be the best predictor of a quality education.

Federal funding attempts to level the playing field, but at 10 percent, the funding is inadequate and the White House and congressional proposals to cut funding will further hurt impoverished school systems. Advocates of charter schools say they are a lifeline for students trapped in segregated schools, but charters not under the control of the local board and superintendent siphon dollars away from the public schools, leaving the remaining students with even fewer resources.

A 2016 Brookings Institution report, “Segregation, Race and Charter Schools: What Do We Know?” found “individual charter schools are generally more racially segregated than traditional public schools that serve the same geographical area.” There are insinuations nationwide that charter schools and vouchers are becoming the vehicle for resegregation.

The push for vouchers is also problematic, posing another threat to achieving equity. The Center for American Progress recently released a report, “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers,” that reminds us that the first private school voucher program in the South was designed to siphon public dollars from public schools to finance white students attending private schools.

Deliberate segregation fosters divisiveness, reeks of prejudice and leads to inequity. There is ample evidence that low-income minority students educated in schools with higher-income white students perform significantly better than their counterparts. Diversity leads to a quality education and engenders mutual respect that transcends economic and racial barriers.

A Launching Pad
How, then, can school system leaders champion equity? The obvious first step is to recognize that equity and equality are not the same. Equity provides each child with what that child needs while equality would provide all children with the same.

A personalized learning approach provides equity while teaching all the children in a class the same thing at the same time perpetuates the achievement gap. Although the transition from the traditional K-12 system, as it exists in most schools, to a personalized, competency-based, progress-at-your-own-pace approach is a challenge, system leaders can set in motion the steps necessary to achieve the transition. We encourage you to join AASA’s Personalized Learning Program and network with colleagues who already are deep into the process.

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act creates an opening for greater equity. No Child Left Behind and adequate yearly progress encouraged a teach-to-the test mentality and the branding of children by a single test score. Although ESSA is still an accountability law, it has reduced the test score requirement to just 50 percent and allows for the introduction of other measures. AASA’s Redefining Ready is a national campaign that has introduced new research-based metrics to more appropriately assess that students are college-ready, career-ready and life-ready.

Finally, we encourage you to join AASA’s I Love Public Education campaign and encourage your school board to adopt the resolution in support of public education on the lovepubliceducation.org web page. As champions for children and public education, we can bring about the equity that continues to elude our country, not just in education, but in our culture.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan