A new federal education commission aimed at reforming school financing recently launched its public outreach with a first stop in California.
The 27-member Equity and Excellence Commission, established in February, is focused on closing the achievement gap that separates poor, mostly black and Latino students from their more affluent, largely white peers. It hopes to raise public awareness and generate discussion, with the goal of getting more money to those schools where achievement gaps persist.
The commission held its first town hall meeting last week in San Jose that included local educators, community members, and several commissioners. While the effort is national, participants focused on state-specific issues, such as its decline in national academic standings and the challenges associated with Proposition 13.
"We held the event in San Jose in the spirit of engaging both experts and the public on a major issue that touches the entire nation," said Stanford law professor and commissioner Mariano-Florentino Cuellar.
Commissioners say they want to promote education reform that achieves equity, as opposed to parity. They say past reform efforts have focused on parity, or equal treatment for all students. But critics say a one-size-fits-all approach ignores the specific needs of students. Commissioners say equity, on the other hand, tailors spending to improve the performance of students on the low end of the achievement gap.
"The ultimate issue is not just that children in some schools or districts have far better educational outcomes than kids in schools just a few miles away," Cuellar said. "It's whether America as a country will be sufficiently prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century."
The commissioners are high-profile members of a variety of fields, including academics such as education professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford and Chris Edley, the dean of UC-Berkeley's law school. The commission also includes union leaders such as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Dennis van Roekel, and education philanthropists such as Netflix founder Reed Hastings.
The commission is set to create a final report by December.