School’s Out! - Education Reform In The US, Why It Matters And What Lawmakers Can Do For American Public Schools
August 01, 2016
By: Sophie Raffel, C’18
Not only does education grow “good citizenship,” but providing American children with quality schools also has tangible results on the nation’s economy, from both a domestic and international standpoint. However, while politicians generally agree that dependable K-12 education is a positive, there is heated disagreement over how much support the federal government should give to education funding. Legislators must see that education is an issue which affects American welfare in every sense, from the economy and job creation to national security.
It’s well known that the US is failing compared to other developed nations on PISA scores, an international student assessment, especially in math where the US ranks 27th. What is less known, however, is that this sinking standard of American student testing ability is not continuous across all races, or socioeconomic classes. US children in the wealthiest economic sectors have the highest PISA scores in the world. The reason why the US ranks so low in the world overall is because of the staggering level of educational inequality. Raising PISA scores is only one small benefit among many due to decreased education inequity. If the achievement gap was erased between White, Black and Latino students ages K-12, $52 billion would be added to the US economy. Clearly, fixing the crumbling public school system has global ramifications. If the majority of future Americans cannot compete on the world stage, it will hurt the US’s ability to compete internationally. Additionally, there is the glaring issue of civil inequality. Typically, the majority of money for public schools comes from local property taxes from that school’s district. This dependence on property tax is a large cause of the gaping disparity of funding between districts. Children in poorer districts often receive lower quality education simply because of their zip code, even when their parents pay higher taxes than in wealthier zones. These districts lacking teachers, school supplies or necessary programs are often populated with low income, minority or immigrant communities who need these resources the most. It’s no secret that many schools are falling far behind standards, but lawmakers are often unwilling to actually dedicate the resources necessary to fix failing schools. Much of this comes from the perception that the education initiative is a great “black hole” that sucks in funding and ultimately leads to few results. This portrayal is entirely inaccurate, and much research has been done on which factors specifically help children learn better, and what sort of changes schools around the nation need to make.
Some politicians understand this, and are dedicated to changing the conversation around education reform. Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), working with notable experts and activists from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Campaign for Educational Equity and the American Federation of Teachers has developed a potential solution to the grave issues facing America’s public school funding crisis. The bill he introduced in March, H.R. 4013 or the Equity and Excellence in American Education Act, focuses mainly on implementing evidence based initiatives to fix failing schools by targeting what experts have found children need to succeed. While education initiatives in the past, such as Bush’s No Child Left Behind, focus on holding schools responsible for output measures like standardized test scores, this bill hones in on what sort of input measures schools must provide to generate desired results. This legislation would provide a system for generating statewide, countywide and school specific cost analyses for providing children a satisfactory education. By assessing these exact costs, the bill allows school districts to implement “minimum investment,” or to expend just enough to make all schools excel. Additionally, the legislation would create new federal investments which could go toward particularly struggling schools in states with limited resources. This bill is a unique, cost-based, evidence-based approach to school funding. Most importantly, it acknowledges that the federal government has a responsibility to educate American children.
An additional benefit to improving schools in lower socioeconomic districts is that it would mitigate the segregating effects of school district brain drain. Currently, many school districts suffer from varying degrees of de facto, or non legally imposed, racial or socioeconomic segregation. This is primarily due to residential patterns, and once a trend is set establishing that a particular school zone has more resources, teachers and better facilities, that school will draw more middle and upper class families, perpetuating the status quo. By improving schools in districts which cannot provide sufficient resources, this brain drain is less likely to occur, leading to more socioeconomically and racially diverse classes. Studies from the Century Foundation have shown that simply increasing the diversity of a school leads to higher performance on NCE math scores, and higher graduation rates.
While fixing the US education system seems an incredibly daunting task, it is far from impossible. By tackling this issue in a pragmatic manner using evidence based solutions, and strategic cost analyses, Congress can assure that education is not simply swept under the rug of political rhetoric or posturing. Improving American schools is not just some vague initiative affecting the far distant future. Making schools effective and providing equitable learning opportunities to all could make the difference between continued American success on the world stage and at home. Politicians have a duty to protect the American dream through investment in education.
 “Brown v. Board of Education,” May 17, 1954. [Online]. Available: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/347/483#. [Accessed: Jun. 27, 2016]
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