I was looking at an overview of several of the panels at the 2011 Education Nation Summit this year. (Although this is an invite-only event, both days of sessions will be streamed live and I will be keeping you updated via Twitter!) Although I am excited about all of them, one that I am really looking forward to is “What’s in a Zip Code? A Look At Inequality Across Our Public Schools.” Whenever I speak at events or do presentations for groups like the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education or at Mom Congress‘s annual conference, this is something that always comes up. And the unfortunate thing is, zip code does matter. The way that our current educational system works, one child might have an individualized, appropriate educational placement from day one, that is thorough, measurable, and takes all their needs into account; their friend across the street (and across district lines) on the other hand might have to fight for their services every step of the way, and perhaps even has to go to due process to try to get the services they need. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and districts that make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provide one way to try to assess how your district is doing; however, even this measure is variable. If you were to consider a mile radius from around a district meeting AYP, you would find students and schools placed in the same demographic, similarly situated, and yet some of these adjacent district would be making AYP and others would not be. What makes this consideration even more sobering is the fact that AYP is a bare bones minimum for schools to achieve.
Do you know which districts are making AYP? For PA, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has a helpful color coded map to show you; your state likely does too. For a more national and even global perspective, EducationNext‘s Fall 2011 issue has a feature entitled, “Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?,” which combines global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results in math and reading with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) proficiency standard, which is separated by state and generally considered “the nation’s report card.” These combined scores allow for individual states to be ranked alongside the other countries participating in PISA; this means that instead of a general idea of where the US falls in comparison with other countries, we can focus in on what specific states are doing well–and which aren’t. Unfortunately, this underscores the importance of the panel at Education Nation: zip code matters. Students in Massachusetts rank 5th in reading performance; students in DC, just 400 miles away, are ranked at 95th in reading–behind all 50 states and 45 other countries. I think that the key for using these rankings successfully is to have panels like the one at Education Nation, where we can come together and consider the more successful states on these rankings. What external factors have played into their success? What best practices can be carried over to other districts?
After reading the article in EducationNext, I’m very excited that Education Nation will be addressing this area and look forward to discussing how to make our educational system more equitable!
Here’s the description of the panel from Education Nation’s website:
What’s In A ZIP Code? A Look At Inequality Across Our Public Schools - President Obama has said that education is the civil rights issue of our time. Schools face unprecedented pressure to increase achievement for the most disadvantaged students, but is it possible to fix education without first fixing poverty? A national movement has coalesced around the idea that effective teaching trumps all, while many prominent educators say that even the best schools can’t overcome basic issues like poor health and poverty, pointing to stark inequities in the system. NBC News’ Brian Williams will moderate this discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
Melissa Bilash is a dedicated education advocate and the 2010 Mom Congress Delegate from Pennsylvania.This piece was originally posted on September 9th, 2011 on her Advocay & Consulting for Education website.