For the past couple of years, debates around the current state of education have narrowly focused on two main issues: Common Core and charter schools. Folks can argue until the cows come home over whether or not the Common Core Standards represent federal government overreach, or how the evil charter schools are trying to dismantle public education. But neither of these debates (getting older by the minute) are addressing the real central crisis of public education: the opportunity gap.
For the most part, public schools in America are racially segregated and economically isolated. They continue to perpetuate the same old landscape in which some kids have access to opportunities and some do not. The story hasn’t changed much in the past several decades, and in fact it continues to trend in the wrong direction. It should go without saying that of course there are exceptions to this rule, but exceptions do not generally result in systemic change.
Testing every year isn’t fixing the opportunity gap. Common Core won’t fix it. Charter schools aren’t fixing it, and…drumroll please…neither are district schools.
The federal government needs to put its bi-partisan money where its bi-partisan mouth is. This would require not only devising high educational standards for every single American and robustly funding that effort, but holding every single state, city, town, and rural community accountable to those standards. As long as meeting high standards is an incentivized choice (i.e. Race to the Top), there will be states that opt out.
A recent bill that proposes MORE autonomy for states, would, if it were to pass, be a complete and utter disaster. The bill relegates almost every aspect of school quality accountability back to the states. That’s great for the kids that live in states with longstanding commitments to public education, but what about everyone else? Kids should not be the victims of unreliable and unfair political whim. Commitment to a high quality public education for every single child should be guaranteed and unwavering. We need more federal oversight. Not less.