Category Archives: Equity

On Being in the Closet at St. Ignatius

Originally posted on Where the Boom Bands Play.

St. Ignatius CollegeI distinctly remember one gay teacher while I was a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago. Or, at least we all thought he was gay. He taught Spanish and was unapologetically flamboyant. I never had the pleasure of having him as a teacher, nor did I ever have a teacher who was openly gay until graduate school — I cried when she said it in passing on the first day of class. I don’t know if the Spanish teacher ever came out to students or ever said that he was gay. Frankly, it was none of our business. Even without the “official” confirmation, the students loved him. It was said that he was one of the best Spanish teachers in the department. In particular, the students loved that he was gay. However, students weren’t seemingly obsessed with the fact that he was gay because it was some kind of celebration of identity. They loved that he was gay because of the novelty of it.

I have vivid memories of male students making a sort-of-game out of approaching this teacher. He gave any student a hug when the student asked, and I remember watching male students dare each other to go up to him to get a hug. The male students would always approach timidly and reluctantly while a pack of friends stood back and giggled behind their hands. I wonder now as I wondered then if that teacher knew the spectacle those students were making out of his identity. I saw this exchange happen frequently during passing periods in the hallway. I have one particularly clear memory of a male student getting a hug and then promptly brushing off his clothes and skin as if he were wiping off the contact he had just had. He was a popular student, making his actions all the more “important” and the embrace all the more “egregious.” Everyone thought it was hilarious. The message that action sent has stuck with me over 10 years later. I can see that student’s face as he grimaced, wiping away this teacher’s homosexuality like it was contagious. I still know that student now. At one point that student was a teacher himself. I hope he gave hugs to kids that wanted them when he was a teacher. I hope no student ever wiped off his identity, his love.

I never got one of those hugs. I both thought it would be weird since I was never a student of this teacher (though he would hug anyone who asked, pupil of his or not). Moreover, I tried to avoid anything that might lead to the assumption that I myself was gay, since I was terrified of the truth that lie latent within me. I now wish I had gotten one. That hug could have been affirming for him and for me in a time when I felt like something was wrong with me; a time when I felt suppressed, confused, and invisible.

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This 40-Year-Old Supreme Court Case Allows States to Fund Schools Inequitably

People sue the government for discriminating against them all the time. The Trump Administration was recently sued by a handful of states after the attempted travel ban, claiming religious discrimination. The owners of Hobby Lobby sued the Obama Administration arguing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violated their religious freedom by requiring the company’s insurance to pay for contraception.

Lawsuits against state governments for school funding inequities are commonplace. In February Chicago Public Schools (CPS) sued Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner claiming that the state school funding system and its teacher pension system discriminate by underfunding low-income students and students of color. They have a point: a recent study found that Illinois operates the most inequitable school funding system in the country. CPS educates around 20 percent of the children in the state, yet it receives roughly 15 percent of state funding. While the judge recognized that Illinois’s school finance system is obviously broken, he nevertheless threw out the case.

Photo by Andy Blackledge

So what can affected children and families do now?

The short answer is nothing. Although Judge Franklin Valderamma is allowing the plaintiffs to refile their case, the efficacy of school finance litigation, regardless of a court’s ruling, depends entirely on the state’s willingness to right a wrong of its own creation. In other words, those treated unjustly by a state school finance system must hope that their abusers change their ways without any way for the state to be held accountable.

This latest case in Chicago raises the specter of San Antonio v. Rodriguez from 1973, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no Constitutional right to education. The court also ruled that wealth (economic status) is not a protected class, unlike race or religion, and therefore is not subject to the strict scrutiny test, the most demanding form of judicial review. This means that the constitutional rights’ of low-income people are not afforded the highest level of protections when weighed against the government’s interest.

There are several serious consequences of Rodriguez. First, state courts are more likely to rule in the state’s favor even if the system discriminates against low-income students. Second, the hands of the federal government are basically tied when it comes to inequitable state school finance systems. Thus, if a state ignores a court order to improve its school finance system, families have no recourse. They are stuck. Third, school funding systems based on local property taxes, which comprise virtually every system in the country, are constitutional, even though they produce class-based disparities.

Due in large part to Rodriguez, there have been over 40 years of school finance litigation that struggle to produce sustained results increasing equity. Texas has been in and out of court since Rodriguez was decided. The state took action in response to a court order, and then rolled back those policies. The pattern continues to this day.

For a more recent example, consider the victory of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in New York. The plaintiffs won a strong pro-equity ruling, and the state of New York responded positively. Good news. The problem, however, was that shortly thereafter, the state’s commitment wavered and eventually buckled. Now students are back in the same situation they were in previously.

The problem is similar in Washington State, where the state supreme court held the legislature in contempt of court for failing to comply with their order. And when the legislature has proposed changes, the court has continuously rejected them as far too insufficient to repair their broken education finance system. The court is doing the right thing here, but the buck stops with the legislature.

And although there is no silver bullet that could suddenly end disparities in school funding, overturning Rodriguez would provide a significant boost for equity. The federal government would then be able, as it does with voting rights, to ensure that all students have equitable access to the necessary resources for a high-quality education.

Join Us May 2nd at Union Station (with a Yellow Bus!)

The largest system of mass transit in the U.S. isn’t the airline industry. Nor is it trains, or city buses, or even all those things combined. The largest mass transit system in America is made up of the nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students to and from school each day.

Despite innovations in technology, developments in clean fuels, and big changes to the way schools work in many communities, in most places, school transportation operates much as it has for decades.

But should it?

On May 2nd, Bellwether will host a discussion of the role of transportation in education, its many challenges, and some innovations and possible solutions. We hope you’ll join us at Union Station in Washington, D.C. for a light breakfast at 8:45, followed by a lively discussion. At the end of the event, for that dose of nostalgia, we’ll even take you back to work on a yellow school bus!

Seating limited, RSVP today.

The discussion, moderated by Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham, will feature:

  • Cindy Stuart, District 3 representative on the Hillsborough County, Florida school board since 2012, and current board chair. She also represents the school board as a voting member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the federally-established transportation planning body for the Tampa metropolitan area. This cooperative relationship between the school district and the broader regional transportation planning infrastructure is unique across the country and holds promise for a more coordinated approach to meeting the needs of communities and schools.
  • Mike Hughes, Assistant Director of Transportation at Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS provides transportation to district, charter, and private schools in the Boston area — navigating a complex cross-sector system of education. Facing escalating costs and other pressures, the district has taken innovative steps to address significant challenges.
  • Joel Weaver, Director of the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (CTEA), a charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation, owned by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, in rural southeastern Idaho. CTEA serves students dispersed over a large geographic area, representative of the challenges many rural schools face in transporting students in safe, efficient, and cost-effective ways.
  • Kristin Blagg, a research associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, where she focuses on education policy. She recently co-authored “Student Transportation and Educational Access” with Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, a paper that explores the role of student transportation in school choice, profiling five choice-rich cities.

We rarely discuss school transportation, but its impact reverberates through the entire school system — raising issues of educational equity, student safety, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Please join us as we explore these issues.

3 Big Myths About Child Care on Equal Pay Day

Last week, the internet Greek chorus turned its attention to a previously wonky topic: DC’s educational requirements for child care workers. A Washington Post article highlighted that DC is first in the nation to require higher education for child care workers, and a plethora of commenters took to Twitter to criticize the policy. Various individuals commented on the “stupidness” of this new policy. For example, Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: “This is insanely stupid.” Economist Alan Cole tweeted: “What’s the endgame for someone who can’t make it through college? Are they going to be allowed to do things anymore?” The article transformed into a Rorschach test revealing Americans’ antiquated view of child care.

Baby Bottle Robot 

The reality is that many Americans still view child care through a prism of babysitting. They desire the cheapest option: a safe baby with a caregiver of minimum capability, like someone who can easily read aloud to their child. As a result, many parents overrate the quality of their child’s day care. But the reality is child care is complex and skilled work that remains deeply undervalued. And today as throughout history, it’s work mostly performed by women.

Today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pause and consider three persistent myths about child care, which ultimately hold women back from achieving equal pay with men:

MYTH #1: Child care is menial work which can be done by anyone.

Many critics of the new credential requirements in Washington, DC implied that child care is necessarily low-wage work because it requires minimal skill. Commenters were unified in asserting that high-quality care-taking did not require specific competencies and in undervaluing the actual work of nurturing and addressing the demanding needs of small children. These viewpoints belie the reality that adults who educate young children require knowledge and competencies as specialized as those of an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher. A successful early childhood teacher needs to understand child development; language development; and how to foster early literacy, early numeracy, and positive socio-emotional development, among other skills. Continue reading

Anything But Equal Pay: How American Teachers Get a Raw Deal

Want a positive financial return on your degree? Try electrical engineering or computer programming. Maybe advertising, or even drama. But don’t become a teacher.

Michigan State University’s annual report on starting salaries by college major show the average middle school math and science education major can expect to earn around $38,706 upon graduation. Pre-k and kindergarten teachers take the bottom spot, at $35,626. While it isn’t terribly surprising to see a chemical engineering major starting around $61,125, even music/drama/visual arts majors beat out teachers, averaging $40,681.

Michigan State University Recruiting Trends 2016-17

But it gets worse: When compared to similarly educated workers in other developed nations, American teachers are exceptionally underpaid.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Education at a Glance 2016

In developed countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the average middle school teacher makes around 85 percent of what other college-educated workers earn. But in the United States, teachers fare even worse. In 2014, the average American middle school teacher earned just 69 percent of what her similarly educated peers made. This gap is disheartening, to say the least, and doesn’t speak particularly well of national priorities.

These gaps are even worse for the 76 percent of American teachers who are female. Most strikingly, we know that when women enter male-dominated fields, average salaries drop. We know that despite making up the majority of the teacher workforce, and thus often the principal and superintendent hiring pool, women are less likely to become school administrators. We know that it is especially bad out here for women of color. We’ve debunked argument after argument used to explain away low educator wages, arguments which cite everything from summer vacations and pension benefits to innate altruism and family flexibility.

We need to pay teachers more, because we need to pay women more.  We know that high-quality teachers have lasting, positive effects on their students’ future earnings.

All that said, this discussion is nuanced. Teacher accountability and professional development matter while we must reexamine abysmal starting salaries, I’m not suggesting we simply raise wages and then stand back and wait for greatness. But I am suggesting that we consistently devalue the work women do, and when considering Equal Pay Day, we should start with teachers.

Read my colleague Marnie’s Equal Pay Day post here.