(Great diary by Jen. She is dead on. – promoted by Julia Rosen)
Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared that 2008 will be the Year of Education. As Peter Schrag noted recently, this is a little more than terrifying. The Republicans’ answer to the public education crisis has thus far been to undermine public education by pushing private school vouchers, further segregating our students through “school choice” and pushing an economic agenda that is focused on de-funding government.
Most certainly, Schwarzenegger and the Right have shown they are unwilling to back up any claims they have about “reform” with actual funding for public education. The clear result of the “tax cut” mantra is under-funded schools – California is now 38th in per-pupil spending in the country. But it’s not just a lack of funding that our schools face. Fundamentally, Republicans and conservative Democrats like Gov. Gray Davis who preceded Schwarzenegger, have been unable or unwilling to get at the real heart of the issue in today’s public schools: the majority of California public school students are students of color, and the learning experience they get is simply not sufficient to prepare them for success.
Thankfully, the progressive movement has an incredible ally and asset in Justice Matters, a non-profit group that has been methodically studying the root causes of educational inequity, and proposing real and proven solutions. Justice Matters just released a groundbreaking new study, High Schools for Equity(PDF), and an accompanying Report Card tool(PDF) that will help all of us who want a progressive public education agenda navigate the upcoming policy battles. Susan Sandler, director of Justice Matters, wrote about these tools recently on California Progress Report. Throughout the Governor’s “Year of Education,” Justice Matters will be following and watching closely, using the report cards – based on findings from the study – to grade the Governor’s performance when it comes to dealing with racial justice in public education.
What I find most significant about the study is the fact that it looked at California public high schools where by a variety of measures – most notably graduation rates and numbers of students who went on to college – were doing right by low-income students of color. What I know from my time as an education reporter at the Los Angeles Times is that public education policy discussions are almost always focused on the problem, with few concrete solutions offered – in part because the problem is so large and daunting. In High Schools for Equity, you can see clearly how specific ways of structuring a school or presenting curriculum can make a world of difference for low-income students of color, and you can see how those solutions could easily be translated into statewide policy so that these exemplary schools are the rule, not the exception. Their approach is well summarized in this passage from the forward of the study:
Rather than assume that all schools can do what outliers do, the study assumes that there are reasons why they cannot. In the schools that are in the case studies, we want to understand what conditions they face that make it very difficult to do what they do. What must they overcome or get around? If they face conditions that are better than what most schools face, what are these better conditions and the set of supports that help them do what they do? And the ultimate question of our study is: What policies are needed to address the conditions that make it hard for the majority of schools to do what these exemplary schools are doing? What policies would make it easy to do what they do? In other words, what are the policies that would systematically bring about racially just education?
Transforming public education policy so that it is serving all California students is a long-term struggle. Justice Matters makes a compelling argument that the path toward a truly progressive education agenda lies in the on-the-ground experiences of those who are the most under-served by the current system, and I couldn’t agree more.