The Patriot Post® · 'Educational Equity' — Fairness to Students or Bureaucracy?

By Robin Smith ·

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. It also just wasn’t right. While cultural norms dictate a great deal of accepted behavior and, sadly, the racial divide in America was still accepted until the mid-1950s, race-based policy never has been right under our constitutional law or moral standing. Simply, we’re either created equal as the Bible teaches and as our Founding documents declare or we’re not.

Yet a term that’s emerged in recent years — educational equity — implies that, despite decades of school district configurations and pouring over data to create integrated public schools, neighborhood schools are segregated with a climate that produces inequitable results and an environment of unfairness. Never mind the reality that public schools become a reflection of students within a zone or geographic perimeter, often from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

Students don’t control the professional careers, choices, or educational attainment of their parents. For that matter, neither do teachers, school boards, boards of education, or any other entity of governance.

In Maryland’s Howard County, the efforts to construct educational equity are causing a stir, though not because the individuals opposed are racists, as some might argue. Instead, families want their children to attend a neighborhood school that is within a reasonable distance from home without a great deal of disruption to the daily commute and their peer groups.

Three years ago, Superintendent Michael Martirano offered a plan that would redistrict all 8,000 of the district’s students. But over the last couple of weeks, the Howard County Board of Education voted to approve a redistricting plan for the 2020-2021 school year that will instead reassign about 1,000 of the system’s students.

In response, one parent, Xueying Ni, argued in a WAMU radio interview, “The reason we oppose this is because we are a community-based school. We’re all tied to this school. There is no connection to outside neighbors. All of our daily routines are here.”

That doesn’t sound racist or illogical.

A high-school freshman, Vedant Patel, was quoted in the same piece, “It’s going to increase my commute severely. I’m already having to go around half an hour each day going to school and now it’s going to be at least an hour.”

Again, nothing hateful or racially motivated, right?

But to address overcrowding of some of the 76 schools in the district — where the highest concentration of students who receive free or reduced meals (FARM) are found in 10 schools — a sweeping plan has been presented, debated, and approved by the school board. According to Superintendent Martirano, the new zoning plan is “undoing nearly a decade worth of crowding at many of our schools and advancing socio-economic equity across all schools.”

Fueling the plans proposed as well as the one approved is data illustrating opportunity and performance gaps along with lower graduation rates and poor attendance among Hispanic and black students, in addition to the high rates of FARM entitlements characteristic of the 10 schools. So, the proposed answer is to redistribute students via zoning and busing by demographic data points to equalize, or attempt to standardize, the socioeconomic status of each school.

What has worked before and what exactly is educational equity?

First, the definition. Educational equity implies that fairness will be guaranteed through actions and policies that remove barriers to resources, instruction, and engagement in a school for all children. That sounds terrific and is truly the goal of most school districts, individual schools, teachers, and administrators.

Yet attempts to influence this “fairness” have not fared so well.

Efforts of the Barack Obama administration through the Every Student Succeeds Act increased the access to billions of additional funds and grants designated only for schools where larger numbers of students were underperforming, lagging in their graduation or struggling to keep teachers. Title I funding along with programs like Ladders of Opportunity and Promise Zones were deemed a failure, even by the educational experts.

The move to adopt federal standards, Common Core, was rejected in many states as overreaching and taking away local control of schools. While standards are needed to ensure the value of a student’s diploma from state to state, the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to education was problematic in light of statements from Obama’s Equity and Excellence Commission.

From its report in February 2013 to then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the commission opined, “Historically, our approach to local control has often made it difficult to achieve funding adequacy and educational equity.” The suggestion? “Develop policies that give states and school districts incentives to pursue legal and feasible means to promote racially and socioeconomically diverse schools. … The federal government should also continue to support racial diversity as part of a broader equity agenda.”

Hmm. Maybe we overlooked the references to being better prepared academically or even equipped to be gainfully employed due to career readiness and critical learning skills. Nope.

So, the suggestion was to “Establish a process for replacing chronically ineffective school boards with oversight boards or special masters when weak governance is clearly contributing to a district’s persistent underperformance,” ignoring any local elections.

Let’s see, more money poured into education for the last 60 years hasn’t generated a level of greater academic preparation. As a matter of fact, if “equity” of funding was the measured metric, many of these underperforming schools would need to refund the taxpayers for the additional money, resources, and energy allocated to compensate for factors that, in reality, begin in the home.

Suggestions to increase federal control and negate local school districts haven’t been the secret to this fairness, either. But in the WAMU interview, an African-American resident running for the Howard County school board seemed to be onto something. Larry Pretlow noted that students should be able to attend neighborhoods schools of their choosing. “I don’t agree that you should ever make any attempt to balance poverty,” he stated. “[The county] should be working to reduce it.”

What a novel idea! The School Board should focus on the students and schools while the city, county, and state governments should work to improve the infrastructure, get government out of the way of growing jobs and other important aspects of improving a family’s socioeconomic standing.

And, one other parting thought. The same individuals who want socioeconomic equity to ensure educational equity are also the ones who oppose school choice that empowers parents to rescue their kids from underperforming schools.

But, that’s just not fair … to the bureaucracy at expense to the student.