For Each and Every Child:
Securing Equity and Excellence
in American Public Schools
Education is the great equalizer, the means to enable each and every child to strive for the American Dream. Children in American public schools today, however, receive vastly unequal educational experiences and opportunities. These inconsistencies in educational quality are the result of variety of factors, a key one being the way that local schools are financed. Children living in poorer communities often receive a fewer resources at their schools. This barrier prevents too many children from realizing their true potential, leading to even more pronounced social and economic inequality in our society.
I introduced H.R. 1758, The Educational Opportunity and Equity Commission Act of 2009 in order to get to the root of this problem and help identify solutions for eliminating the inequitable distribution of educational resources among American public schools. As a result of a provision I included in the appropriations bill for the Department of Education in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education established the Commission in January 2011. The Commission, a group of 28 nationally recognized leaders in the educational arena, was charged with gathering information on how government can improve educational opportunities for students in American public schools and continue to shore-up the foundation of our vital public school education system.
The Commission published its report, For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence, in February of 2013. It addresses the level and implications of the present disparities in our public education system, as well as making a comprehensive list of recommendations to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for America’s children. To learn more about and view the report, please go to www.foreachandeverychild.org
Before becoming a Member of Congress, I spent many years as a teacher, principal, and school board member. I observed inequities in educational systems firsthand within local school districts, counties, and states. One reason for the inequity was the variation in local property tax structures. Simply put, schools with students living in wealthier neighborhoods received more tax dollars by virtue of the revenues generated by local property taxes. Schools serving students in poorer neighborhoods received less funding based on lower property tax revenues.
For example, in Silicon Valley, one school district spent nearly twice as much per student as a similarly sized school district nearby, based on data for the 2004-5 school year. Consequently, this district had higher teacher salaries, lower student-teacher ratios, higher standardized test scores, and higher graduation rates than its neighbor. In a comparison of performance of the two school districts based on state tests, the higher spending district's lowest scoring school ranked better than all but four of the schools in its lower spending neighboring district.
These disparities exist nationwide - our highest spending American school district spends nine times more per pupil than the district with the lowest per pupil funding. Disparities like these should not exist in America, yet they continue to persist. Eliminating these disparities will provide the means for all Americans to achieve their individual success and ensure America's global leadership and economic competitiveness in the 21st century.
My Vision of Equity
The notion that EACH and EVERY child will receive the necessary resources they need individually to thrive in our nation's schools.
Throughout history, our nation has fought to achieve parity for our youngsters. Educational parity is the notion that all American school students, regardless of their individual learning needs, would receive the same per pupil funding (with schools being funded based on Average Daily Attendance). However, we know that children have a variety of needs and some will cost more to educate than others. Therefore, educational parity has not delivered true educational equity because it has not solved the inequities in our school financing systems.
Conversely, educational equity is the belief that all students have the guaranteed right to access quality educational programs, regardless of their costs for the individual student. For some students, the cost of these quality programs may be invariably higher than for other students based on their needs. Under a system of educational equity, more school dollars would be spent to support the children with the greatest needs. We must strive for educational equity in order to close the damaging achievement gap that exists today between children coming from a spectrum of different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Only by focusing on the concept of equity can our nation provide for the historically overdue equality of opportunity in our school system.
The needs of each child can be determined by conducting a thorough assessment for each child during their pre-K years. From that assessment, a road map will be developed to determine what resources a child will need to meet her or his individual needs and thus achieve educational success and equity. With this notion, it is clear that the strategy for attaining equity lies in meeting the needs of each child.
We need to respond to the inequity in educational systems across the United States by implementing changes to the school financing structure that result in fundamental and lasting institutional reform at the state and federal levels. This is precisely why I sponsored the Educational Opportunity and Equity Commission Act. At the heart of this endeavor is the mission to restructure school finance systems to achieve equity in the distribution of educational resources and diminish the achievement gap between underrepresented and underserved youth.
Without a change of direction for U.S. public schools, we continue to rob our children of their most precious resource - time, time spent daily in our compulsory but inequitable school system. Ultimately the commission’s recommendations will formulate the prescription to close the achievement gap that currently exists between individual schools, school districts and states. This will result in excellence and equity for each and every student receiving public school education throughout our great Nation.
You can read some of my thoughts about educational equity and the Commission in the following articles:
Fund schools based on students' needs, San Francisco Chronicle (2013)
A better way to prepare teachers, Inside Higher Ed (2012)
The nation celebrates teachers, American Education Week, Milpitas Post (2012)
Preserving the American Dream, American Educator (2011)
Win the future, by investing in the future, The Hill (2011)
Why American students lag behind, CNN (2010)
DREAM Act: Supporting our students, Politico (2010)
Bridging gaps in education and the community, American Teacher (2010)
English language learners deserve to be understood, Edutopia (2009)