It is clear that students throughout the city are getting varying degrees of quality education, with children of color getting the shorter end of the stick. At times, students may even get varying degrees of quality education within the same building (i.e., tracking or school practices that put less experienced teachers with more difficult kids). So it made me think, what constitutes a fair and equitable education and in a system this large and is that even possible?
Let’s first tackle the term “equity.” What does equity mean in terms of education? Is it access? Is it the same resources? An equitable education means every student receives an education that appropriately prepares him or her for the path of their choosing. Students enter school with many educational variants. Some may have had access to Pre-K and others may not. Some may be new to the country with varying grasps of the English Language, others have different familial structures, including foster care, multi-generational housing situations, and now there are a significant amount of homeless students in the city’s public school system. By law, all of these students have the right to a fair and comprehensive education. But, what should that look like?
First, that looks like teachers and administrators making every provision to meet students where they are. For example, it would be great if every kid was able to read and write at or above their current grade level. But, chances are that will not be the case. According to the Department of Education, based on the 2016 NYS ELA results, more than 50% of NYC students are reading and writing at a level 2 or below in every grade. All of these students are performing below proficiency. Once the data is further disaggregated, it is a much bleaker picture for students of color. We must provide the students the supports and scaffolds necessary to improve these skills. Every SINGLE teacher should be equipped with the necessary skills to make their students better readers and writers. Period.
There are some schools with a high population of students with emotional disabilities, yet have psychiatrists or social workers who work on a part-time basis. Guidance counselors have large numbers of students on their caseloads, provide mandated counseling services, and are usually the liaison between the school and Administration for Children’s Services. In order to do this effectively, a lot of time is required. One person cannot effectively counsel hundreds of students. I have personally witnessed administrators, teachers and other support staff having to forego the work of running a school in order to tend to students in crisis. If schools were truly equitable, each school would get the resources it needs.
Schools shouldn’t have to decide between librarians, classroom teachers, and guidance counselors, reading or afterschool programs, textbooks or professional development. The quality of a child’s education should not be predetermined by his/her zip code. This is UNFAIR AND INEQUITABLE. Schools should be funded and supported according to their needs. Our highest-needs schools deserve a substantial increase in state and federal funding if they are going to make significant gains for their students; the best coaches, math and literacy specialist, etc. should also be working in and with schools with the greatest needs.
When thinking about what is necessary for students to succeed, there is only one logical conclusion; every school must be able to respond to the needs of its community and each must be adequately supported in order to offer equitable educational services.