Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

So, We Know the “What”; We Just Can’t Agree on the “How”

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

The Congressionally mandated Equity and Excellence Commission issued its report on a conference call in February that proposed ways to improve public education for all the nation’s children. The report describes a landscape that those of us who have spent our professional lives in public education are well aware of….that students living in affluent, largely white communities receive a truly world-class education while those who attend schools in high poverty neighborhoods are getting an education that more closely approximates schools in developing nations. The report states the obvious, and what we all know:

  • Public schools in poor communities have fewer resources, less-experienced teachers and worse facilities than schools in more affluent communities
  • More than 40 percent of U.S. children attend high-poverty schools and 22 percent of children are living below the poverty line.

So, if one more time, a commission comprised of the most impressive thought leaders in a variety of professions, including education, clearly states what the problem is, why are they (and to be fair, the rest of us) unable to state with as much clarity how we solve this huge challenge to our nation’s future success and prosperity.  Certainly, everyone agrees that resources are unevenly distributed depending on the wealth of the local community and that the majority of funding that supports public schools is derived from property taxes.  An obvious action step is to propose an alternate funding strategy to support public schools.  How do we do that without threatening the concept of local control; the sovereignty of individual state constitutions; and the perceived threat of a “national curriculum”?  It’s always been puzzling that the harshest critics of public schooling in the US continue to compare our system with high performing countries, all of which have strong, central control and funding for their public education systems.

So, for me, the essential question is HOW do we get individuals in our democratic society to care enough about all children, regardless of the state or community in which they live, to come together in such a way that we can all embrace an equitable funding scheme that ensures every one of our students have their educational, emotional, developmental needs met in such a way that we all benefit.  How indeed…..