Equity and Quality in Public Education

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, in partnership with the Office of Child Advocacy, recommends that the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do the following:

1. Approve the report, Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K–12).
2. Receive the background rationale and appendixes (to be included in the Minutes).

3. Affirm the long-standing commitment of the PC(USA) to public education as an essential institution contributing to the common good in a democratic society by its commitment to equip all children to be effective citizens, capable of living full and meaningful lives and contributing to their society.

4. Approve the following measures to provide greater fairness and quality in public education:

For greater fairness in public education:

a. Recommits the PC(USA) to the principle of equal educational opportunity for all children in the United States, regardless of race, abilities and disabilities, gender, language or socioeconomic status, and affirms them all as our children, neighbors in our care.

b. Calls upon our elected state and local officials to reform the way that public education is currently financed from an approach based largely on property taxes, which perpetuates and exacerbates class and/or racial disparities in poor, urban and rural school districts, to an approach that provides an equitable allocation of moneys to school systems according to the financial needs that schools require in order to attain agreed minimum standards in the provision of instructional inputs, qualified teachers, and physical facilities.

c. Encourages Presbyterians and other citizens to assess how the trend toward re-segregation and socioeconomic class separation may impact their communities and to support measures that would reverse this trend, which disadvantages more than one-third of U.S. public school students, as documented in the achievement gaps that are associated with economic and racial segregation patterns.

d. Opposes educational reforms that address achievement gaps by high-stakes testing and school restructuring without addressing underlying economic disparities in funding.

e. Expresses our deep concern about the wide disparity between the percentage of racial ethnic students in public schools and the percentage of racial ethnic educational leaders and teachers, which deprives these students of positive role models and cultural intermediaries.

f. Recognizes that while some families can choose alternatives such as home schooling, charter, and private schools, the vast majority (82 percent) of our children will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be educated in public schools. The privilege to choose an alternative for one’s own child (and the privilege of exercising this right based on one’s own resources) does not absolve anyone from the obligation to support financially the public schools that educate the majority of our society’s members.

g. Encourages Presbyterians to evaluate existing and proposed charter schools in their communities to ensure that they do not violate workplace rights of staff and educators, and that they serve the same population as regular public schools, including English language learners and students of all abilities and disabilities; be subject to the same audits, teacher-certifications, and disclosure requirements as regular public schools, and not be run on a for-profit basis.

h. Urges school boards, legislatures, and charter schools to ensure that charter schools fulfill their original purpose of developing innovative and effective teaching for all students and to share such knowledge with public school systems in order to assure equity in education and advance the quality of education for all.

i. Affirms that justice requires all social institutions in our society, whether private or public, to honor the right of all persons, including public school educators, to organize to participate actively in decision-making that affects them.

j. Encourages school systems (and related libraries, recreational, and other developmental programs) to provide age-appropriate opportunities for student involvement in institutional governance as part of teaching-by-example of democratic values, so that students can participate constructively in decision-making that affects them.

For greater quality in public education:

k. Supports reforms consistent with the social fairness and holistic vision of human development that public education is to serve, understanding “quality” in part to mean exposure to art, music, sport, and humanities for all students (not simply those bound for college), to encourage critical thinking and moral development and not only test-determined proficiency in a restricted set of subjects.

l. Calls for and supports the enactment of legislation that addresses the documented opportunity gaps in education by ensuring that all children have a similar chance for good quality early childhood education, fully qualified teachers, equitable allocation of instructional resources, and a curriculum that will prepare them for further study, employment, and community service (including Head Start and pre-Head Start in light of their demonstrated benefits for student enrollment and attendance).

m. Maintains that in an increasingly pluralistic and multicultural environment a basic understanding of religion’s cultural richness and historic importance should not be omitted from or slighted in the curriculum even as the difference between learning “about” religion and teaching faith is respected, and even when religious and cultural elements have been traditionally intertwined;

n. Supports the development and retention of qualified and skilled teachers through competitive salary levels, continuing education opportunities, cultural orientation, disciplinary back-up, encouragement for creativity, and participation in administrative decision-making (including through union representation) that may affect their interests.

5. Call upon Presbyterians to support public education through the following measures:

a. To take an active role in supporting public education institutions and organizations partnering with these schools in order to make sure that all children have an equal educational opportunity;

b. To honor the service of countless Presbyterian members, elders, and ministers on school boards and as school teachers and administrators;

c. To urge congregations to set aside a Sunday at the beginning of the school year to celebrate public education, especially teachers, and to recognize students entering and/or returning to school; and

d. To continue cooperation in research and witness with ecumenical partners whose positions are consistent with our church’s position that all children have the right to an opportunity to access to a quality and affordable public education.

6. Direct the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and the appropriate ministry areas of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) to do the following:

a. Post this resolution on the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) website, and provide copies of this resolution electronically and in limited publication for distribution to public and school officials as well as to church study classes;

b. Develop and/or provide appropriate study materials for individual and congregational use to stimulate dialogue and action on the concerns identified in Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12);

c. Urge the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) to include an emphasis on public education in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar;

7. Direct the Presbyterian Washington Office (PWO) and other appropriate entities of the General Assembly to communicate to the president of the United States and members of the U.S. Congress that:

a. the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) considers education to be a basic human right (Minutes, 1996, Part I, p. 532);

b. the 219th General Assembly (2010) declares its support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms access to a quality public education (K–12) as a basic human right essential to human development because it enhances capacities, improves opportunities, and widens the range of choices; and

c. the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports the speedy ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

8. Direct the Presbyterian United Nations Office and other appropriate General Assembly entities to communicate to the United Nations and other international bodies the concurrence of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with the UN Declaration on Human Rights that declares education to be a basic human right essential to human development because it enhances capacities, improves opportunities, and widens the range of choices.

Executive Summary
[Note: For full rationale/report, see acswp-public-education-full-rationale.pdf under “Additional Resources”.]

This report and its recommendations are in response to the following referral: Item 09-06. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) Recommends That the 218th General Assembly (2008) Direct the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, in Partnership with the Office of Child Advocacy and in Consultation with the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, to Create a Resolution Team to Study the Church’s Policies on Public Education in Relationship to the Issues of Desegregation, Affirmative Action, Faith-Based Initiatives, Home Schooling, Charter Schools, and the No Child Left Behind Law, with Attention to Class as well as Race; Making Appropriate Recommendations That Would Be Presented to the 219th General Assembly (2010), and, if Appropriate, Subsequently Preparing a Study Guide for Individual and Congregational Use (Minutes, 2008, Part I, pp. 53, 55, 865).

This report discusses the challenges to public education posed by growing economic divisions and new demographic realities in our society. It is the church’s first report on public education in more than twenty-three years and is therefore timely, if not overdue. Intervening years have witnessed a rising gap in educational opportunity between adequate- and limited-income families, growing concentrations of African American and Hispanic students in inner-city schools, increasing difficulty of applying targeted or affirmative action remedies in light of Supreme Court decisions, and increasing use of competitive incentives to boost school performance. In short, inequities grow, and educational quality suffers. The purpose of public education has always been entwined with the purpose of the country, to serve as a beacon of hope and opportunity while extending the promise of fair treatment for all.

This study examines the multiple economic, racial and ethnic, and social disparities that weigh down our current education efforts and impede them from fulfilling this role. The study acknowledges the negative national consequences of an emerging dual track education system—one privileged, one not—and calls for reforms and reinvestment in public education (K–12) in order to offer all children similar opportunities to develop their talents to the fullest and become constructive citizens. From the perspective of the Reformed tradition, with its longstanding commitment to expanding educational access, the study celebrates the value of sharing educational approaches while building a common democratic ethos in our society. Charter schools, for example, are a product of the frustration that people feel with the shortcomings of the current system and their desire to experiment with alternative approaches. Yet the privilege, based in economic status, to choose an educational alternative for one’s own child does not absolve anyone from the obligation to support the public schools that educate the vast majority of our nation’s children. Indeed, this report is founded on the assumption that every child has the right to equity and quality in education and that it is the responsibility of the whole church to protect and preserve this right for all children, in accordance with Jesus’ call to us to understand all in need as our neighbors, and in support of Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Recommendations pay attention to the basics of teacher pay, retention strategies, and ways of building community support. They affirm that acting as neighbor means making sure that all children have access to up-to-date textbooks and adequately equipped computer labs, to well-qualified teachers who understand them and know how to address their needs, to curricula that educate in the arts as well as the language arts, in social sciences as well as the sciences, and in health and physical education as well as academics. Acting as neighbor also means attending school board and PTA meetings, volunteering to tutor and mentor, and being informed on local and national education issues.

ACREC Advice and Counsel
The ACREC advises that Item 10-11 be approved and encourages the commissioners and appropriate bodies of the General Assembly to continue to give careful attention to issues affecting public schools, racial ethnic students, families, and communities in relation to the rising numbers of charter schools, private schools, and home-schooling families, in order to help the church assess the impacts of these changes.

Full Rationale