Equal Educational Opportunities Real Focus Needed

Saturday, July 29, 2017

One of the more important education bills in American history is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), which amongst other core objectives has sought to assist historically disadvantaged children through conformity with the law, increase the level of school funding, and promote equal educational opportunity for all students. One of the important functions of Title IV. of the Act, which originally included the Equal Educational Opportunities Program, was to provide remedies in the area of school desegregation, while Title VI. has affirmed, "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Accordingly, statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that each State Department of Education and the District of Columbia; 17,000 LEA's; 4,700 institutions of higher learning; 10,000 proprietary institutions; numerous libraries and museums receive some level of federal funding and must be in compliance with these legal statutes.

An amendment to ESEA, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (1974), decreed that all public school children were entitled to equal educational opportunities. Denial of those opportunities (§1703) included deliberate segregation of students; the failure to eradicate De Jure segregation in areas with dual school systems; discrimination in zoning and school assignments; unfairness in hiring, working conditions, or in the assignment of school faculty and staff; appropriate student transfer policies; and the failure to incorporate appropriate measures aimed at assisting students overcome language barriers and fully participate in instruction. Several federal agencies were granted the authority to monitor civil rights infractions and compliance with federal guidelines and regulations.

In reviewing much of the statistical data, analysis, and research available that measures student educational performance, the Achievement Gap that persists amongst different classes of students is one of the most detailed and documented topics. There is no simplistic way to explain the gaps that persists, but most commonly high-stakes testing; socioeconomic status; inadequate funding; literacy; lack of comparable learning environments and facilities; access to highly effective teachers; the discriminate administration of discipline; and yes, Race have all been cited as factors as most students of color groups lag behind more affluent majority classes. In addition, many scholars such as Prudence L. Carter, Kevin G. Welner, and those included in the critically acclaimed work Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance (2013) have argued that the achievement gap has continually widened over the course of the last decade, and the disproportionate lack of equity, access and funding in schools that serve historically disadvantaged students has created an Opportunity Gap. Interestingly enough, in From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools (2006), Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is one who argues that the gap discussion needs reframing because the systemic inadequacies and inequities in the proper educating of minorities throughout American history has led to a massive "education debt."

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education's OCR released a Dear Colleague letter that highlighted the disparities in resource comparability. While the guidance noted the progress many school systems had achieved in providing more student equity, particularly in the face of stagnant budgetary constraints, it noted that they still contend with many problems associated with unequal access to educational resources such as the availability in engaging course offerings such as advanced placement; academic programing including co-curricular opportunities; stability in school leadership, the teaching workforce, and support staff; school buildings and facilities that are sufficiently and properly maintained ; and access to technology and high-quality instructional materials that in their estimation helps to provide "rigorous engagement with the curriculum" including digital learning resources, textbooks, modern library materials, labs, and other technological devices that complement the educational attainment level and learning outcomes of students.

As illustrated by the findings of numerous studies and assessments, the lack of diversity in schools is one area that directly impacts the achievement and opportunity gaps being experienced today. In 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Ed. examined this social paradigm in their report, The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce. Key findings contained within the report include: At more than 80 percent, the workforce for teachers and administrators is "overwhelmingly homogenous"; students of color comprised 43 percent of high school graduates; 38 percent earned bachelor's degree; below 25 percent began teacher prep programs and less than 50 percent completed program requirements, compared to 73 percent of white students. Likewise, several collaborative bodies in Tennessee such as the Trailblazer Coalition, (Fixing the Broken Pipeline: Teacher Diversity and the Classroom, 2017), and SCORE, (State of Education in Tennessee, 2016) have identified diversity in education as a point of emphasis. In the report, The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers (2017) Nicholas W. Papageorge and colleagues found that not only does diversity provide a role model effect, but it has a dramatic impact on reducing the dropout rate, and assisted in areas such as recommendation to gifted classes and college prep programs. Dr. Ivory Toldson in Breaking Barriers (2008) stresses the need for cultural relevance because it can help foster empathy, instill self- efficacy and intrinsic motivation in the mold of Bandura's Social Learning Theory through Nurturing and "Strength-Based Assessments", and engage students through didactic learning and positive interactions.

The public discourse our community is currently engaged in has distracted us from the real debate that is now needed, namely, are our lowest performing schools receiving equal educational opportunities, and are they receiving equal access to resources, technology and instructional materials? Do they receive adequate funding and have we wholly dedicated ourselves to the full and most effective deployment of all available resources? With minorities comprising only 15 percent of state educators, with only 280 black educators out of 3200 in Hamilton County, what is our commitment to diversity? Do the most progressive models available such as Joyce Epstein's School-Family-Partnership Model for Community Schools require us to form a partnership zone and enter into contracts with private business entities? These are just a few issues that merit further public debate and review the same as the Partnership Zone.

Eric Atkins

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