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Educational Equity Should be a Top Priority in State of the Union Address
In his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama must tell America what he plans to do to make educational equity a higher national priority. He can start by explaining what his administration plans to do about the skyrocketing costs of college. Tuition and fees have risen 538 percent since the early ’80s, more than three times the median family income, which means higher education is quickly becoming out of reach for many low-income and working class families. No hard-working student of modest means should be shut out of college because of costs, nor should they have to saddle themselves with crippling debt just to go to college. Add your voice to the I AM NOT A LOAN campaign today, and tell the president to make college affordability and ending the student-debt crisis a priority.
The president also should assure Americans he’s committed to strengthening the college pipeline by calling for stronger teacher preparation programs. Adequate preparation of future teachers right now ensures that future generations of students will have access to high-quality teachers. And the president should continue to push for the passage of the DREAM Act. Too many young people who were brought to this country as young children by their parents and who have worked hard to prepare for college, are finding themselves shut out of postsecondary education solely because their immigration status is undocumented.
Tuesday night also provides the president an opportunity to recommit to enforcing existing law against disproportionate assignment of low-income students or students of color to uncertified, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers. This provision, which has been on the books for more than a decade, has never been enforced by the Department of Education. As a result, low-income students and students of color continue to be assigned to these teachers at greater rates than their peers. Knowing what we do about the importance of teacher quality in driving student achievement and closing gaps, the president must take a stand on putting an end to this practice. If states, districts, and schools won’t do this work voluntarily, the department must — for the sake of students — step in and enforce the law.
Beyond speaking to what the federal government can and must do about these problems, President Obama should urge Congress, parents, and community members to keep a watchful, discerning eye on what’s happening with education in the states. Recently, 34 states and the District of Columbia made significant changes to their school accountability systems under the Department’s ESEA Waiver Flexibility program. Some have instituted promising new policies for raising achievement and closing gaps. Unfortunately, others have taken giant steps away from a focus on all students in all schools. Where states and districts are generating meaningful, positive results in terms of gap-closing and increased achievement for all groups of students, the president and his administration should ensure those successes are widely shared, examined, and uplifted. Where they’re not, the president should ensure the public that his administration will take swift, forceful action.
And, finally, the president should tell parents and community members how his administration plans to ensure they get useful, easy-to-understand information about how their schools are doing. Too often, the school report cards required under Title I are hard to find, harder still to interpret, and lacking in critical information. The president can help by pledging to dedicate resources to ensuring the states create and disseminate clear, easily accessible report cards that contain the information parents want to know, including, but not limited to, how all groups of students are faring under the new accountability systems.
The purpose of the State of the Union address is for the president to lay out his plan for the coming year as a guide to the nation and Congress. There is nothing more imperative than making education — from kindergarten through college — equitable and affordable for all our nation’s youth. On Tuesday night, our nation and her children need to hear how the president plans to accomplish this goal.
— Latasha Myers