In our nation’s capital, consensus often seems a Holy Grail, a feat of myth, a dream nearly abandoned. And while the world of education policy does not split neatly on the same ideological lines as the rest of Washington, it too is characterized by strong opinions and frequent disagreement. In that light, “For Each and Every Child”—the report presented to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by an independent Equity and Excellence Commission on Tuesday—is all the more remarkable.
Over two years ago, Congress charged the Department of Education to form this commission to examine the disparities in educational opportunity that produce achievement gaps, and to recommend ways in which school finance should evolve to increase equity and achievement for all American children. “We asked them to tell us not what we wanted to hear but to tell us the truth,” reflected Secretary Duncan on a conference call announcing the report.
But first, the commissioners had to agree on what “the truth” was—no easy task among a group of stakeholders from across the education arena. ERS Executive Director Karen Hawley Miles joined academics, union leaders, civil rights advocates, elected officials, and education reformers to form a commission described by Co-Chair Christopher Edley as “impressively, intentionally diverse.” “Everyone on the commission was an expert,” he lamented with a chuckle, “Hammering out unanimity took two years.”
“For Each and Every Child” reflects those two years of negotiation. Moreover, it reflects many of the fundamental principles that ERS stresses to its district partners every day. The first pillar of the report is a focus on improving school finance to provide “equitable and sufficient funding for all students,” which “may in some cases mean more than equal investment” in students with higher need. During the release event, Commission Co-Chair Tino Cuellar and Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond both credited Weighted Student Funding (WSF) systems as one way to achieve funding equity. ERS is currently working with multiple urban districts to design and implement exactly this type of need-based funding and has many resources to support districts interested in moving in this direction (see our WSF presentation and lessons learned from our WSF summit (PDF).
And while “For Each and Every Child” meaningfully addresses funding equity, it is not just an equity report. Indeed, it affirms that “how money is spent can be as important as how much is available.” When it comes to spending money wisely, the commission and ERS agree that effective teachers are the most important investment. The report calls for redesigning the teaching career, overhauling compensation to match broader responsibility, arranging effective teachers in high-need classrooms, and building smarter schools that enshrine teacher collaboration and professional growth (see our recent work on revising teacher compensation).
Thirty years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published “A Nation at Risk,” the seminal report on American educational underachievement. After years of working under the framework it established, “We have to recognize that the pole star toward which we’ve been directing our efforts simply hasn’t gotten us far enough,” said Co-Chair Christopher Edley. This new vision—with an emboldened focus on equity—“represents a new pole star toward which we hope education reform efforts at all levels will become directed.” “We have taken the first step” on a long journey, agreed Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA). We at ERS are honored to have been a part of this historic effort and look forward to continuing the partnership to get there quickly.