Twitter was all-a-twitter last Friday about the new infographic, Lifting All Children Up, from the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the National Education Policy Center. I think this educational resource deserves more careful attention than Twitter can provide, however, because it not only defines and locates our society’s biggest educational challenges, but it outlines the strategy we must undertake to undo years of injustice. Take a look here:
While the Bush and Obama administrations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act told us that we could reform our schools to help the students who need help by punishing teachers and closing schools, by privatizing and charterizing, and by testing and doubling down on standards, the school-based strategy outlined here by the Schott Foundation and the National Education Policy Center would invest in experienced and expertly trained teachers, expand pre-Kindergarten preparation, offer family supports in Community Schools, affirm children’s own language and culture at school, fund schools adequately and equitably, and reduce class size to ensure that caring, prepared teachers and other adults have enough support and small enough classes to have meaningful relationships with students.
But, according to the experts at the National Education Policy Center and philanthropists at the Schott Foundation, school-centric reforms cannot by themselves ensure opportunity for children who are living in shelters or doubled up with relatives or strangers, for children whose parents cannot earn a living wage even when they work full time in the service economy, for children who are hungry or lack healthcare. “The evidence is clear: when obstacles are removed and students are given the resources to thrive, and when families and neighbors are meaningfully included in school communities, all students learn more.”
My favorite definition of justice in our society’s institutions like public schools comes from an ethicist, J. Philip Wogaman, who frames his definition in the theology of Christianity. His definition could as well be contextualized in any of the world’s major religions: “Justice is the community’s guarantee of the conditions necessary for everybody to be a participant in the common life of society. Ultimately that notion has theological roots. If we are, finally, brothers and sisters through the providence of God, then it is unjust to treat people as though they did not belong. And it is just to structure institutions and laws in such a way that communal life is enhanced and individuals are provided full opportunity for participation.” (Christian Perspectives on Politics, pp. 216-217. Emphasis in the original).
Much of our politics today blames the victims, in this case the teachers and students who fill America’s poorest schools. For too long we have assumed that public schools in the poorest communities can simply pull themselves up. Strategies that slash state taxes and reduce resources for public education cannot fulfill the clear and simple vision outlined in this excellent new resource from the Schott Foundation and the National Education Policy Center. A good society would create the political will to guarantee an opportunity to learn for every child.