The challenge of addressing inequity in the classroom has been with us for decades, ever since the historic Brown vs. Board Supreme Court decision in 1954, which began the process of equal educational rights for all.
But equality is not the same as equity.
Students of all races, backgrounds and genders have access to free public education, and our special needs students have the right to services that help them learn. Those are big steps forward in equality.
However, discrepancies in equity are depriving many of our students of an opportunity to excel, and it is a crisis we must address.
The fact is, the educational experiences we offer students varies in quality, and the quality depends in large part on where our students live.
Thousands of our young people attend schools in less-affluent areas. These children face daily challenges such as:
- Outdated technology
- Limited time and facilities for extracurricular activities such as sports
- Limited cafeteria capacity resulting in shorter lunch periods
- Temporary classrooms
- More standardized testing
Each of these issues has a negative impact on our students and our teachers. Large class sizes mean students get less personalized attention. Outdated technology and equipment make it more difficult to prepare students with the modern skills they need. Rushed lunch periods makes them feel stressed and inhibits their capacity to learn.
More affluent schools with access to better resources experience fewer of these issues or experience them to a much lesser degree.
This, in a nutshell, is inequity.
Parents and businesses in more prosperous areas of Howard County help attenuate these problems by supporting their schools generously and with their own resources, and I applaud them. They are the backbone of what makes Howard County Schools the envy of our neighbors.
But the fact that some schools meet these challenges while other schools cannot harshly underlines the inequity we have (unintentionally) created in Howard County.
What to do? First, we must recognize that school inequity is a threat to Howard County’s bright future. Good schools are a major factor in family decisions about where to live, and if fewer schools offer excellent opportunities, our appeal to education-focused potential residents will decline. We could also lose current residents who decide to seek better schools elsewhere.
The ripple effect can result in slower growth, fewer high-quality new businesses, a smaller tax base, higher per-capita property taxes, poorer county services and a commensurate lessening in our desirability as a place for families to grow and thrive. These cycles perpetuates themselves. In the long run, educational inequity is a recipe for disaster.
Next, we must continually scour our budget for ways to make classes smaller, giving teachers more time to work with students individually. Getting personal attention from a teacher is an often-inspirational experience for young students, empowering them to become lifelong learners.
We must also commit to creating a uniform BYOD policy. I favor standardized, school-issued devices and giving our teachers the training they need to use them effectively.
These are just two of the many ways we can attain equity – improving our schools, our community and most of all, our students. We owe it to them to provide an education that is not just equal, but equitable.
Our first step should be electing candidates committed to bringing the county together in a united effort to make this happen. I will be a strong advocate for county-wide equity on the Board, and I will lead the charge to find the resources to make it happen.