Public education in the United States is at a critical juncture. As reform policies of the last two decades come under increased scrutiny, a movement is growing to chart a new course – one that centers on principles of equity, democracy, diversity and meeting all students‘ needs. In my 20 years working in education policy and school reform, I‘ve seen the impacts of various efforts and have formed clear views on what strategies hold promise versus those doomed to fail. Here‘s my perspective on what should guide the path forward:
Public Education as an Unfulfilled Civil Right
Equitable funding across all public schools is essential to making education the civil right it was envisioned to be. Yet glaring funding gaps remain, with higher-poverty schools often receiving thousands less per pupil. This entrenches inequality. According to the most recent federal data, in 2017 New Jersey spent over $22,000 per student in predominantly white districts compared to around $16,000 in predominantly non-white districts – a over $6,000 disparity. These gaps disproportionately impact students of color.
|Per Pupil Spending: High Minority Districts
|Per Pupil Spending: Low Minority Districts
Policies like privately-managed charters and vouchers, pitched as increasing "choice," often benefit advantaged families while draining resources from schools that serve our most vulnerable students. A 2022 study of Pennsylvania charter programs found they increased racial segregation across schools.
To make public education a true civil right, we must provide equitable funding and resources to all schools, end privately-operated charters and voucher schemes that exacerbate inequities, and give communities real voice in governing their schools. In my advocacy work across seven states, I‘ve seen the power grassroots organizing through protests and legislative pressure can have to drive funding equity policy transformations.
From Punitive to Restorative: Rethinking School Discipline
For too long, our education system has operated with a punitive mindset when it comes to discipline…