There are many excellent public schools in the United States—schools that receive distinguished awards, produce students with perfect ACT scores, and send their graduates to elite institutions of higher education. Yet within these same schools, you can find students experiencing none of these things firsthand, many of them students of color and from low-income families. I know this because I am the superintendent of just such a school, and my school is working hard to erase these divisions.
Through the years, educators and policymakers have used many means to address gaps in opportunity and achievement through programs designed to support students with lower achievement histories. Many efforts have spurred gains, but nowhere near enough. To genuinely address these issues, schools need to rethink everything they do to maintain and grow excellence while ensuring every student shares in that excellence. Excellence without equity is in fact neither and is no longer an option.
To ensure that every student—no exceptions—experiences and benefits from an excellent education, schools need to examine deeply and attend to three key areas of support, changing and growing in each area to meet the needs of all students: the school’s belief system, organizational structure, and instructional program.
Achieving excellence and equity for all students is possible. It requires an honest look at beliefs, structures, practices, and a willingness to do what it takes to make change. Schools should not be daunted and must begin immediately—there are too many students who cannot wait. We can act our way to new beliefs and start to make the structural and instructional changes necessary to achieve excellence and equity. To do anything less is educational malpractice.
Author: Eric Witherspoon, District Superintendent
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