Education is the civil rights issue of our time

By John Monteleone, Fellow, National Institute for Latino School Leaders, NCLR

I often find that within educational circles, the word equity can be controversial and confusing. Those who are more affluent and privileged often become squeamish, while those from economically-disadvantaged districts become increasingly engaged.

However, while this conversation can be difficult to have with different audiences, the difficulty only emphasizes its importance. Pursuing equity in education can prevent some districts from falling into the achievement gap—and help prevent deeper inequality from taking root in our society.

In a country that prides itself on the mantra that “We The People” are treated fair and just, providing every child with an equitable education should not be controversial.

Schools have an equity problem internally because we have an equity problem in society at large. Equity is the key to achieving equality, and every student has a right to an equitable education. The disparities in learning opportunities and academic outcomes for our Latino learners and children of color have contributed to our nation’s decline in educational performance. If we are going to add to the value of our educational system, we must do more than focus on accountability measures.

Addressing instructional equity, culturally-responsive teaching, and building relationships is necessary to solve disparities in academic performance between groups of students.

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed, it was meant to address these inequities. ESEA was a key provision in the effort to expand the civil rights for underrepresented groups and communities of color in the U.S. educational system.

Unfortunately, we have fallen short.

Ignoring equity in education has widened the achievement gap, and unless we pursue education as a civil rights issue, it will continue to undermine our well-being and our future as a nation.

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