I recently attended the Education Post Blogger Summit in Montgomery, Alabama.
Of the many inspiring moments, the one that hit me hardest was when Alma Marquez recounted the time she called out the names of students in Green Dot Charter’s first-ever lottery. 3500 kids entered the lottery. She called out every single name.
At first, the room was filled with excitement and joy as South LA families realized their kids had won a ticket to a new and promising school—and possibly a ticket out of poverty and permanent disadvantage. But once all the school’s seats were full, calling out the names of those on the waitlist grew more and more somber. Tears trickled down Alma’s face as she remembered the heavy task of calling out those names, and the injustice they represented—that the promise of public education continues to fail so many Black and Brown children.
At last, she called the very last name. The child’s grandmother was present. She came to Alma and said, “I just had to be here to make sure he was on the list.” For her, even the waitlist was an improvement. “It meant he had a chance at a chance at a chance,” Alma said.
Our kids deserve more than a chance at a chance at a chance, with no guarantees of quality schooling. We can do better. We must do better.
We must do better than a standalone charter school that has dropped in local accountability ratings due to leadership changes and an unsuccessful transition plan. We must do better than a board member on that charter who wants to ascribe problems to student mobility rather than look hard at how leadership and teacher turnover have affected student learning.
This is the school my daughter used to attend. The current leadership has proposed a plan that, as explained to me during a recent board meeting, does not put improving instruction front and center of the effort to make progress. To me, anything else is arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We chose to leave rather than wait and see any longer.
We must do better than parents having to choose between uprooting their children in pursuit of better teaching, or staying in a beloved community while watching their children’s academics fall behind. I shouldn’t have had to wait another minute for this school to get its act together. Nor should I have had to leave an accredited public school where my child is loved and supported to find instruction that challenges and inspires her to reach her full potential. That’s what we parents were promised when we accepted those seats for our children. It’s not what we’re getting. It’s wrong.
We must do better than state funding systems that play zero-sum games with district- and charter-operated schools, pitting them against one another for students with backpacks full of cash. Every child in every school deserves the resources necessary for an excellent education. And every school and every district deserves smart, prudent leadership that knows how to invest those resources wisely for the greatest good of children.
We must do better than suburban schools where students of color are denied access to top-tier instruction because their teachers didn’t recommend them for the most challenging courses. We must do better than putting kids on the autism spectrum in handcuffs because teachers don’t know how to work with their behaviors.
We must do better than 4-day school weeks in rural areas so short of money they can’t pay teachers for a full work week.
At the summit, we talked about the difference between equality and equity. True equity makes up for historic deficits. Equity involves reparations for past injustices as well as giving people what they need, no matter if that doesn’t look the same for everyone. There’s a well-known illustration showing equality as giving everyone the a stepstool of the same height to stand on to look over a fence, although the people vary in height. Equality won’t get the shortest people to the goal. Equity gives more to people who need more—in the picture, taller stepstools to shorter people—so everyone is able to see.
But hell, we’re not even at equality when some kids go to school five days a week and others four. We’re not even at equality when bright kids of color are locked out of gifted programs. We’re not even at equality when kids don’t get the basics of a safe, welcoming environment wherever they are.
Whether we live in urban, suburban or rural areas, we have a long way to go. Amid all the craziness of our current politics, in the runup to Election Day, let’s not forget to ask the candidates how they plan to tackle the struggle for education equity. And for God’s sake, let’s let their answers help guide our decisions.