Michael Nettles Addresses Release of Report and Action Plan to Narrow Education Funding Disparities
- Tom Ewing
- Tom Ewing
Washington, D.C. (April 15, 2013) —
Civil rights leaders, commissioners from the Equity and Excellence Commission, members of Congress, and education experts gathered in Washington today to strategize on advancing the Equity and Excellence Commission's report For Each and Every Child. The report, released in February, critiques the nation's failure to provide a high-quality public education across all population groups — a failure that experts agree has put America on a trajectory of decline economically, politically, socially, and strategically. Dr. Michael Nettles, Senior Vice President of ETS's Center for Policy Evaluation and Research was among those speaking.
The Equity and Excellence Commission is a federal advisory committee chartered by Congress that, according to the U.S. Department of Education's web site, was charged with, "…examining the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities that gave rise to achievement gaps, with a focus on systems of finance, and recommend ways in which federal policies could address such disparities." At today’s event, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights unveiled a strategy for addressing the issues of education finance raised in the report.
"Public education was immensely important to the founding fathers," Nettles told attendees. "Thomas Jefferson spoke of a ‘system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest.' And he backed it up. Jefferson was head of the committee that wrote the Land Ordinance of 1785, which set aside one lot in each newly created township in the Western Territory for ‘the maintenance of public schools.' Two townships in each state were to be set aside for public universities.
"Yet, nowhere is ‘education' mentioned in the Constitution," Nettles added. "And questions of federalism, particularly in school finance, have plagued us ever since. In the 1973 Supreme Court decision in San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, Justice Potter Stewart called states' education-financing schemes ‘chaotic and unjust,' but not unconstitutional. To ‘chaotic and unjust,' we could add `ineffective.'" For example, Nettles noted that:
- Only 78 percent of high school students graduate, with wide disparities based on race.
- Fewer than 30 percent of eighth-graders scored at an acceptable grade level on recent NAEP reading tests.
- On an international test of knowledge and skills, U.S. 15-year-olds ranked seventh among 34 developed nations in reading, 18th in math, and 13th in science.
- Half of all undergraduates take at least one remedial course upon matriculating.
- The U.S. ranks 12th among 36 leading nations in the percent of 25- to 34-year-olds with an associate degree or higher.
"If the solution lies in a better, more efficient and more effective system of education funding and governance, then among the questions we must address are these," Nettles charged:
- Under what conditions does equal funding guarantee fairness, achievement and quality?
- How much funding? For which students? And who pays?
- What are the best models of funding for states and communities?
- Who should implement or oversee it?
- What are the innovative ideas for generating new funds?
- How can we generate needed resources in economically disadvantaged communities?
- What return on investment can we expect?
- Why should the majority of Americans care about equity and excellence for the minority?
- How do we reconcile tradition with necessity?
"Those are some of the questions we will need to answer. But we don't have much time. In 1983, A Nation At Risk warned that we were being threatened by 'a rising tide of mediocrity' in our public schools. In 2013, For Each and Every Child tells us that the tide has come in — and we're drowning. Efforts by such organizations as the Equity Commission and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are among the initiatives required to prosper as a people and nation."
Others speaking at today's event included:
- Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- Christopher Edley Jr., Dean, University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Co-Chair, The Equity and Excellence Commission
- David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center
- Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- Amy Wilkins, Senior Fellow for Social Justice, The College Board®
- Dianne Piché, Senior Counsel and Director of Education Program, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.
The briefing was sponsored by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Educational Testing Service, and the Education Law Center.
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