In April, I wrote about the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report to Arne Duncan, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.” The report is broken into five sections: equitable school finance; teachers, principals, and curricula; early childhood education; mitigating poverty’s effects; and accountability and governance. Here, I will focus on the first two sections.
While many leaders lament the inequity of educational opportunities, little is done to stop it (pg. 9). One area in which such inequity is clearly evident is school finance. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. spends 35% more than the OECD average on education; yet, no other country has inequities as systemically ingrained as the United States (pg. 15). One factor of the systemic inequity prevalent throughout the U.S. is the reliance on property taxes to largely fund education. Such a reliance on property taxes allows for municipalities with higher value homes to bear a smaller relative tax burden while enjoying higher levels of funding compared to municipalities with lower value homes. In 14 states, over 50% of school funding comes from property taxes, and in Illinois and Nevada it is over 60% (pg. 17). An important, but often overlooked, source of unfair education funding is the inequity within districts. Developing a funding formula that addresses both inequities between districts and between schools in the same district is an important step in improving equity and excellence for every student.
The second section of the report responds to recent trends related to the de-professionalization of teaching, which some have linked to alternative teacher preparation programs, such as Teach For America (TFA). Between 2005 and 2011, TFA has increased its number of corps members from 2,173 to 19,699, a significant increase especially considering that a traditionally certified teacher spends about 1,200 hours in pre-service training compared to a TFA teacher’s 145 hours in pre-service training (Brewer, in press). The report from the Equity and Excellence Commission calls for actions to increase the professionalization of teachers by improving preparation, compensation, and evaluation (pg. 21). The Commission calls for significant change in how we attract, prepare, and support teachers, including expanding teacher preparation that offers intensive coursework that is integrated with clinical models that are often only found in more expensive programs. Attracting well-prepared teachers to communities that serve populations of students that have not had the privilege of highly funded schools requires teacher salaries that are competitive with more advantaged communities. Finally, supporting teachers requires professional development, collaboration, time, resources, and meaningful and fair evaluations, all of which require fiscal resources (pgs. 23-24).
The Commission rightly embraces the stance that schools serving all students deserve adequate resources to close the equity gap. In our current times when education reform is based so much on ideology rather than research and evidence, the Commission’s call for the “use of research to overhaul teacher evaluation and professional development” (pg. 26) is refreshing. To teachers who are blamed for failing schools and bombarded with calls for more accountability, this report’s recommendation to reform teacher-training programs and use valid, comprehensive measures to award teacher tenure and employment decisions is a welcome addition to dialogue.
Brewer, T. J. (in press). Accelerated burnout: How Teach For America’s “academic impact model” and theoretical culture of hyper-accountability can foster disillusionment among its corps members. Educational Studies.