Math wars. Reading wars. Finger pointing. In today’s education debates, the issues that divide us seem to dominate the conversation. Often, these disagreements become distractions, pulling us further away from focusing on what’s most important: how to best meet the needs of students.
Our organizations – Ed Trust-West, a civil rights group, and the Association of California School Administrators – have not always seen eye-to-eye on all education issues. Sometimes at the end of the day we’ve agreed to disagree. However we’ve come together on a call to action to focus even more stridently on advancing educational equity in classrooms and communities across California.
Now, more than ever, we need to ensure the state’s low-income students, students of color, English learners and other underserved groups receive every opportunity to thrive. Today’s political climate calls for all of us – whether educator, parent, advocate or policymaker – to do more to provide safeguards for our state’s children.
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Currently, California educates 1 out of every 10 students in the country, and of those students, 3 out of 5 are low-income and the majority are Latino. California has more English learners than any other state in the union. Given the facts, the Golden State should lead the country when it comes to closing opportunity and achievement gaps for these youths.
Although “equity” seems to have become the latest trend in the education world, true educational equity calls for not just words, but action. We must not stop at merely recognizing disparities but expand evidence-based practices to move the needle for students.
California’s shift to the Local Control Funding Formula – which provides resources to school districts with higher numbers of English learners, foster youths and low-income students – is a welcome start. However, resources alone aren’t enough. To achieve results we must guarantee that we effectively implement policies that strengthen instruction for all students.
While the social imperative to prioritize equity remains tremendous, we can’t neglect the state’s economic imperative to do so as well. Currently, fewer than half of Latino students at California State Universities and California Community Colleges graduate. At this rate of progress, we won’t meet the 2.3 million additional degrees our state economy requires.
It’s also time to create an agenda centered on what stakeholders can agree on. This includes providing quality instruction to all students, tackling institutional racism and our implicit biases, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and providing adequate resources to the schools that need them the most. While finding common ground feels like running a three-legged race at times, we should address these important issues hand-in-hand.
Together, we must oppose any initiative – regardless of where it comes from – that would divert resources from the students who need them the most or otherwise undermine the progress needed for the new majority of California’s students.
That’s why our organizations have joined with the California’s Parent Teacher Association, California School Boards Association, California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, the California Association of School Business Officials as well as the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association to create the California Equity Leadership Alliance.
Collectively, we’ve launched a series of town-hall meetings and workshops aimed at refining “equity in practice” for our most underserved groups. While we don’t have all the answers we’re eager to begin the much-needed dialogue.
We owe it to our children to resist the divide. In times of uncertainty, it’s crucial that we renew our commitment to the 6.2 million students in California. Let’s not allow the 20 percent of issues that separate us stop us from taking action on the 80 percent of the issues that unite us.
Ryan Smith is executive director of The Education Trust-West and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wesley Smith is executive director of the Association of California School Administrators and can be contacted at email@example.com.