In this brief published by the National Educational Policy Center, Jennifer Rice expands on Horace Mann’s view of what it would take to provide equal opportunity in our schools. She asks: What is equal opportunity with respect to education and how to we measure it?
Her argument is expansive. It requires policy makers and the public to formalize policies that account for the social and economic role of schools in determining students’ life chances. She argues that if we commit schools to providing equal opportunity, it will broaden the evaluation of schools from a narrow academic achievement focus.
Providing equity requires a whole community to participate. Rice explains how. I give an example of a school in Orlando that shows this concept at work. It is startling! If it works so well in one school, how can a community plan differently to help all schools?
The achievement disparity between children from families in the top half of the income distribution and those in the lower half has grown 30 to 60 percent since 1970. Rice reports the cycle of poor educational opportunities to poor educational outcomes and poor labor market outcomes. To break the cycle our communities must:
- provide an adequate education. Additional resources are needed in poor districts to ensure all students have the opportunity to meet specified educational outcomes. Resources include effective staff, appropriate class size, challenging and appropriate curriculum and instructional materials, sufficient quality instructional time, and up-to-date and safe facilities.
We know that too often there are distinct differences in the resources between schools in higher and lower income areas. Rice cites statistics. Are there high level courses and quality staff in all schools in your community? If so, is this enough to ensure success?
- In order to create an environment in which all students can succeed, the role of schools must be expanded to address what happens outside of schools. Children’s positive and destructive experiences outside of school have as much to do with academic success as what happens in school. Equity in education must consider preschool experiences, summer experiences, and perhaps most importantly, the integration of community and school services for children and families.
A community-wide view of schools changes a school’s identity. The evaluation of the schools shifts to the evaluation of the community’s ability to integrate academic, social, emotional, and financial opportunities for families and children. Planning for new schools, new businesses, infrastructure upgrades, and provisions for services must focus on providing greater equity. This is a matter of community will and social necessity. There are instances where this more comprehensive planning is occurring.
Let’s look at Evan’s Community School in Orlando. It is an effort to bring school and community resources together to serve families, not only children. The Children’s Home Society raises funds and hires staff to work in schools with faculty, staff, and children to provide community support. The schools focus on academics and the community staff coordinate support services and activities.
It is an extraordinarily effective partnership. When Evans became a community school a few years ago, parents were not involved in school. At the most recent parents’ night, over a thousand people attended. Evans is now a family school. There is a health clinic there for families, faculty and students. It is self supporting. Community school staff coordinate student needs for counseling, discipline, parent involvement, and after school activities. Some might say it was a match made in heaven! You can learn more about it here.