Small classes and schools
Money for high quality education for all students, especially those with the greatest needs
Authentic assessment and high standards instead of standardized high-stakes tests
Racial and economic equity in educational policies, opportunities, and outcomes
Top-notch teaching and rigorous curriculum
Small classes and schools:
Mount-ing evidence shows that small classroom sizes and small schools are one of the best ways to raise academic achieve-ment. Programs such as Students Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) in Milwaukee and Project Star in Tennessee have shown gains for young students in small classes, espe-cially African Americans in inner-city schools. California has begun to reduce its class sizes in the primary grades. These programs need to be expanded to higher grades. It is also critical that new class-size reduction programs be phased in so as to prioritize the highest need schools first.
Money for high-quality education and high-need students:
Since the implementation of California’s Proposi-tion 13 in 1979, the ability of school authorities to raise tax revenue has been extremely limited. Per-pupil spending in the state ranks below the national average; not surprisingly, student achievement is also among the lowest in the nation. Per student expenditures also vary widely from district to district across the state. This is as true in most of the U.S.; for example, New York State’s per student expenditures range from $5,425 to $38,572. In general, the richer and whiter schools have better staffing, classroom materials, and facili-ties. Any serious attempt at school reform is going to require more funds going to the students who need help most.
High stakes standardized tests will aggravate racial inequality. These tests, whether used to evaluate schools, determine college en-trance, or as politically popular high school exit exams, will result in dispro-portionate numbers of people of color dropping out of school or being denied diplomas. The tests themselves, and the high-stakes systems of rewards and sanctions they are tied to, have inherent racial biases that often merely measure the past academic opportunities (or lack thereof ) rather than assessing intelli-gence or predicting future performance. A number of universities are dropping the SAT exam due to its dubious valid-ity and racially disparate results. Lead-ing scholars contend that multiple and authentic assessment measures, such as student portfolios that document actual work and progress, are more academi-cally sound and equitable.
Racial and economic equity:
On nearly every key indicator —drop-out rates, disciplinary rates, graduation rates and college entrance rates —there are significant disparities across race in our schools. The racial and economic impli-cations of current and proposed educa-tion policies must be fully assessed by means of thorough data collection dis-aggregated by race and income, public disclosure of data, high-caliber research, and full consideration of racial impact by policy-makers. Racial equity is not measured by intent, but rather by impact—the actual outcomes across race on key indicators such access to advanced placement courses, graduation rates, and college entrance rates. Every school and school district should collect full data, make public annual racial equity reports, and develop workable plans to address any racial disparities.
Fully certified, highly skilled teachers have by far the best record of getting the best from all students. Currently, California grants some 34,000 emergency teaching per-mits, mostly in schools with high pop-ulations of students of color, due to a myriad of ineffective and inequitable teaching policies. “The shortage of teachers in California is self-inflicted” according to Stanford education profes-sor Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond. And the teacher shortage is not just a Cali-fornia problem. Texas, Arkansas, New York, and Illinois have all turned to new, urgent recruiting measures to try filling their many empty teaching posi-tions in recent months. There are many plausible proposals for improving and diversifying the teaching profession in-cluding expanding scholarship and loan programs to low-income prospective teachers, establishing stronger teacher recruitment and training programs at hard-to-staff schools, providing more professional support to beginning teachers and better professional devel-opment opportunities to continuing teachers, and increasing pay to attract and retain high-quality teachers.
None of these SMART proposals is a quick-fix solution, but all of them can yield both immediate and long-term substantive benefit. All are backed by sound principles and solid research. It is not that solutions are lacking — political will and public commitment can reform our public schools to make excellent and equitable education avail-able to everyone. Let’s work together to Get SMART.