In many parts of the country—especially in urban centers and rural areas—too many of the nation’s youth, particularly minority and low-income youth and students with disabilities are not receiving the education they deserve. There are long-term and persistent racial and ethnic disparities in the rates of dropout, discipline, funding, college application and admittance, and access to information technology in our nation’s public schools.
To give a sampling of these disparities for the most recent years reported at the national level, white students had average scores of at least 26 points higher than African-American students in every subject tested. The gap between Hispanic and white students in grades 4 and 8 in mathematics and reading was between 21 and 26 points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scale (0-500 scale). While the national American high school graduation rate for white students was 90%, it was only 61-72% for Southeast Asian Americans, 61% for Hispanic students, and 81% for African-Americans.
As said by the United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the “glaring inequities” in our nation’s education system are “economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable,” and declared “the fight for equal educational opportunity” to be an immediate and pressing “fight for social justice.” These words truly reflect the values of the Jewish community and should serve as a call to action for those concerned with social justice.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:
- Some communities have not provided equal opportunities to all its citizens.
- As an organization founded on the promise to be “active in the effort to build a just society,” and to “further harmonious intergroup relations in American society and promote Jewish values,” the JCPA has a unique and constructive role to play in promoting quality public education for all.
- The JCPA should commit to the fight for equal educational opportunity and evaluate proposals for improvement of the public schools according to both their educational effectiveness and their consistency with existing JCPA resolutions and mission goals.
- The guarantees of Equal Protection afforded in the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions, together with state and federal civil rights laws that enhance enforcement of these rights, continue to be important vehicles to equalize educational opportunity in America.
The community relations field should:
- Encourage the federal, state, and local governments’ collection of data by states and local school districts in the field of education equity. In particular, data that are disaggregated by race/ethnicity, by gender, by race/ethnicity and gender together, by family mobility, and by socioeconomic status are needed from all school districts on indicators including educational outcomes, bullying and harassment, discipline, classroom management, corporal punishment, inclusion/exclusion issues, dropout prevention and vocational training.
- Encourage research on the causes and most cost-effective remedies for educational disparities among ethnic and economic groups including the effects of lack of nutrition, health care, effective early child care and education, and stable housing on entering students, disparities in preparedness for education of entering students (e.g. vocabulary and other indicators).
- Encourage research on methods of school funding and distribution that meet the needs of students equitably, whether on a district, county or state level, with particular attention to schools’ capacity to hire and retain high-quality teachers.
- Advocate for adoption of early childhood care and education programs with adequate health, nutrition, and housing support from prenatal to kindergarten admission or Grade 1, including optional parental training.
- Advocate for building and sustaining a well-prepared teaching force through such efforts as offering scholarships and forgivable loans for high-quality teacher education, strengthening teacher education, modernizing and streamlining certification procedures and requirements, and improving clinical training and support.
- Work to ensure adequate and equitable funding for education.
- Work to ensure adequate and equitable funding for special education services for those with disabilities.
- Advocate for implementation of what research has shown to be effective practices of school-community collaboration that values parental engagement, students’ cultural backgrounds and lived experiences, and community resources which can improve administrator/teacher-student relationships, and increase shared accountability among students, educators and adult family and community members.
- Raise awareness in the Jewish community as well as the community at large about these issues and analyze the best mechanisms for community involvement and effective coalitions.
- Advocate for effective enforcement of federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection as well as state and federal civil rights laws that enhance enforcement of these rights to equalize educational opportunity in America.