Friday, April 26, 2013

Each and Every Child: Reflections on the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report (part 1)

On April 15, 2013 I attended the “Reframing Reform: Achieving Equity and Excellence in Public Education” summit in Chicago. It was an engaging event with attendees from various education sectors, including not-for-profit foundations, policy makers, education researchers, school board members, and community organizers. A primary focus was the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report to Arne Duncan, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.” The report is broken into five sections summarizing major findings and recommendations. The topics are: 1) equitable school finance; 2) teachers, principals, and curricula; 3) early childhood education; 4) mitigating poverty’s effects; and 5) accountability and governance. In future posts I will comment on these specific areas.

Hosted by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), this summit presented multiple perspectives on the role of education reform and its outcomes on equity and excellence. Additionally, the keynote speakers provided thought-provoking presentations on getting reform right. The first speaker, Pasi Sahlberg, an educator and policy advisor in Finland, has advised over 45 countries, the World Bank, European Commission, and OECD. His presentation focused on how Finland moved from an educationally low performing country in mid-20th century to one of the highest performing countries in the world on various international metrics. Unfortunately, the steps taken by Finland stand in stark contrast to the direction taken by recent reforms in the United States, such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The second keynote speaker, Congressman Mike Honda (D-California), presented the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report and pointed out that the Commission listed “equity” before “excellence,” an outcome the United States has not been able to achieve for many socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority students. As stated in the opening of the report:

This report summarizes how America’s K-12 education system, taken as a whole, fails our nation and too many of our children. Our system does not distribute opportunity equitably. Our leaders decry but tolerate disparities in student outcomes that are not only unfair, but socially and economically dangerous. (pg. 9)  

I concur that education in the United States is not equitable. We, as a nation, face a series of challenges and obstacles if we are to seriously pursue an excellent education for each and every child—perhaps the first of which is deciding how we define “excellent.”   

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