The National Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education, a bi-partisan group of leading educational policy makers from across the country, presented its report to Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, on February 19, 2013. The report was unanimously endorsed by all of its 27 diverse members. For Each and Every Child presents a thorough analysis of the educational crisis facing the country and offers detailed recommendations for what local, state and federal governments need to do to ensure the American ideals of educational opportunity and equity.
Established by Congress in 2011, the commission was charged with examining educational disparities and identifying ways to decrease the achievement gap. Commission members include Executive Director of Campaign for Educational Equity Michael A. Rebell, the Hoover Institution’s Eric Hanushek, Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, NAACP President Ben Jealous, and Education Trust President Katie Haycock. The report outlines its findings in the following five areas:
- Improving school finance and efficiency
- Teaching, leading and learning opportunities
- Ensuring access to high-quality early childhood education
- Meeting the comprehensive needs of students in high-poverty communities
- Governance and accountability to improve equity and excellence.
In addressing the school finance and efficiency component, the report notes that “with few exceptions, states continue to finance public education through methods that have no demonstrable link to the cost of delivering rigorous academic standards that can produce high achievement in all students.” To ensure that all students have an opportunity to meet state content and performance standards, the report recommends that states take a three-prong approach in regard to school finance:
- Identify and publicly report the teaching staff, programs and services students need to receive a meaningful educational opportunity, which the report defines as the opportunity “to achieve rigorous academic standards and obtain the skills to compete in the economy and participate capably as citizens in a democratic society,” to all students of every race and income level;
- Determine the actual cost of providing the identified educational services in an efficient and cost effective manner;
- Adopt and implement a school finance system that will provide equitable and sufficient funding for all students to achieve state content and performance standards;
- Ensure that the finance system is supported by stable and predictable sources of revenue;
- Develop systems to ensure that districts and schools effectively and efficiently use all educational funding to enable students to achieve state content and performance standards.
The report discusses the dangerous trend precipitated by the recession in 2008 that has led states to cut funding for schools even while lawmakers push for improved results. In addition to its specific recommendations for states, the authors call for an expanded role for the federal government in promoting adequate and equitable funding. This role includes directing and incentivizing states to implement equitable and efficient school finance systems, expanding its authority to address persistent inequities, and ensuring federal dollars do not perpetuate broken funding systems.
The second set of recommendations focuses on attracting and attaining talented teachers, a goal that involves providing competitive teachers’ salaries and improving professional development opportunities to align with Common Core Standards. The third section reinforces President Barack Obama’s call for expanding pre-K opportunities for four-year-olds. The commission recommends universal access to early childhood education, insisting that it be “a matter of the highest national priority, with a special priority for children in our poorest communities.” It demands new initiatives and investments to guarantee that within ten years, all low-income children in America have access to high-quality pre-K programs.
The fourth set of recommendations focuses on meeting the needs of students in high poverty areas by providing comprehensive educational opportunities, including expanded health services, extended learning time, and parent engagement efforts. The fifth and final section addresses governance and accountability goals.
In a powerful concluding paragraph, the authors of the commission report emphasize the significance and urgency of their findings:
“In America, we believe that fate is not fixed by the circumstances of birth. The surest guarantor of this ideal is educational opportunity – the birthright of each and every child. For so many children today, and many more to come, these American values are made hollow by our failure to ensure equity and excellence throughout our system of public education.”
March 15, 2013