The Equity and Excellence Commission, a federal advisory committee, released a report on Tuesday, which concluded that the education reforms of the past decade are not addressing the problems they were supposed to fix and that American students do not have equitable educational opportunities.
The commission’s report recommends a shift away from education reform policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. The tone of the report is not anti-teacher or anti-public school. Teachers and school leadership are recognized as the single most important in-school factor affecting student achievement. The commission looked for ways to better support public schools and to reduce the achievement gap, recognizing inequities in funding and services for students living in high-poverty communities. The commission did not recommend an increase in the number of charter schools, stating that the research shows some outperform traditional public schools but many others are no better or worse.
Highlights of EEC’s recommendations include:
- Finances: Asks states and local governments to reexamine how property taxes create educational inequities and recommends that the federal government provide incentives for states to reduce the number of schools with concentrated poverty.
- Teaching, Leading and Learning: Recommendations include not relying on standardized tests as primary evidence of student learning or teacher effectiveness, embedding time for teacher professional development and collaboration within the school day, and nearly doubling average starting pay and top salaries for teachers and administrators. The commission cites a figure that raising salaries could actually lower education costs by $7 billion per year due to reducing teacher turnover and attrition and savings from increased teacher effectiveness.
- High-Quality Early Childhood Education: Calls for an initiative to ensure within 10 years that all low-income children have access to high-quality early learning and for the Department of Education to administer Head Start and other federal early learning programs.
- Addressing Students in High-Poverty Communities: Proposes grant-based programs to provide services such as parenting education (prenatal to teenage), Adult English-learner classes for parents, crisis counseling and support, basic health services for at-risk students, and extended learning time (ELT) during vacations and the school year. They highlight the successful ELT programs in 19 Massachusetts schools, which provide content in cultural, athletic, academic, and other enrichment activities and pay the teachers and staff for the extra time.
The Equity and Excellence Commission, a 27 member panel consisting of academics, civil rights activists, union leaders, school officials, and even a journalist, was charged with providing an assessment and recommendations to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding disparities in educational opportunities related to the achievement gap with an emphasis on systems of finance. Their assessment – “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.” – ought to be sobering to Democrats and Republicans alike. The commission cites a recent McKinsey report, which concluded that the current educational inequities which exist represent an economic impact on the United States equivalent to a “permanent national recession.” The EEC recommends changing course on present education reforms in order to avoid such a financial consequence.