Archive for January, 2015



In my first blog of the New Year I would like to add my response to that of many others to the question that the Secretary of Education of the United States Arne Duncan sent his followers on Twitter on December 30, 2014. Here is the question he asked:

What if every district committed both to identifying what made their 5 best schools successful & providing those opps to all their students?

There were a lot of interesting responses to Duncan’s tweet – possibly quite different from what he initially expected. Here are some paraphrased examples: What if we addressed the disgraceful level of child poverty in the United States? What if all parents with full-time employment made enough money to adequately nourish their children? What if we stopped forcing young children to take incessant and unfair tests? What if young children were allowed to play at school? What if all our children had recess and music and art and physical education in their schools? What if the wealthy and elite citizens of the United States stopped disparaging the teachers of the nation?

There are a lot of “what if’s” for sure!

 Now, I do not disagree with Mr. Duncan that districts should take a look at what makes their top schools work well and share the same opportunities with all their schools. Good idea! But it is time for him to stop pretending that schools are politically neutral and unequal only because educators are not innovative or working hard enough. The schools are unequal in great part because the United States has continued to fail to live up to the promise of the Supreme Court Brown decision of 1954. A visit to any school district with unequal schools would most likely reveal that the “best” schools serve the wealthiest (and often the whitest) children in the community. The district may have found ways to funnel more resources into the “best” schools with “choice” programs such as magnets, or “specialized” opportunities for children with designated abilities, or other selective programs that serve to protect pre-Brown stratification of privilege for the more advantaged. Or districts may simply be offering their best efforts to the children it considers to be more worthy and important.

The “bad” schools are likely to be serving the poorest children and children of color in the district. Researchers, citizens, and even some educators may speciously attribute the lack of success to “parents who don’t care about education” or “children who come to school unready to learn.” The worst forms of inequality, predictably experienced by the children who might have benefited the most from Brown, can then all too easily be rationalized through biased generalizations about deficiencies in poor children and their families. This makes persistent inequality and discrimination seem acceptable and inevitable. The fact that these “bad” schools do not provide anything close to the same climate, encouragement, hope, resources, or opportunities can be inappropriately excused with an unfair blame-the-victim mentality.

The first thing that the school districts must do to follow the suggestion in your tweet, Mr. Duncan, is to admit that unequal schools exist because some children and families are valued far more than others. This valuing of some people over others must be seen for what it usually is – racism, classism, and powerful cultural bias. The economic gap and widespread poverty among children makes the situation much worse. Then the districts need to put a plan in place to equalize school resources –which should include high expectations and informed cultural respect as well as actual money for equal class size and equal educational opportunities. After this, or maybe before, the districts must find superintendents, administrators, and school boards who will stand firm during the subsequent political onslaught created by some wealthy and privileged parents who like things just the way they are. If resources are equalized and students are integrated, these parents will know full well that their own children may lose their privileged status and greater provision of opportunity. Courageous leaders are going to have to remind those parents of the national commitment to the Brown decision and stand firm to protect and enhance the equal rights of all the students. The wealthy parents may threaten to leave the public schools – and indeed they might. A shrinking public school population will result in closing schools and diminished funding. What will happen then to the children who are already experiencing an inferior education? This is a political problem that needs political solutions from principled and ethical leaders in education and government.

Mr. Duncan, as Secretary of Education of the United States, you have the civic responsibility to stop pretending that inequality is an innocent state of affairs that can be easily resolved if educators would only do their jobs. Such pretense amounts to a dangerous lie that shields the real injustices from appropriate attention. Unequal education is a sign of the continuing class warfare playing out in the schools of the United States. Your silence on powerful equity politics is getting in the way of the many dedicated educators who work on the front line daily to help our poorest and most marginalized children to be successful learners. Please roll up your sleeves and address the confusing maze of tangled “choices” that is making true equal educational opportunity an impossible dream for the children who need it the most. We need an education secretary and a government with the courage and commitment to strengthen this nation through one fair, equal, and excellent public school system.

What if we had a United States Secretary of Education, backed by the President and Congress, who sought to make Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity a reality in the United States?

It is 2015 and time to find out!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children