Thursday, April 06, 2006

Russlynn Ali

Before joining the Education Trust West, I worked on broader children's issues as the Liaison to the President at the Children’s Defense Fund, and in education policy with the Broad Foundation and the LAUSD Board of Education. I also practiced civil rights law, and securities fraud litigation. Prior to starting my law career, I was a teacher. Through these experiences it became clear to me that there remains two very separate and very unequal education systems in America. I've also witnessed first hand the root cause of low achievement and achievement gaps -- a system designed to provide less of all that matters most to low income kids and students of color.

Education is already a fundamental right. The problem is that in this country and state, the quality of education varies dramatically, with poor and minority students getting shortchanged. How can we make sure every student has access to a high-quality education and that every student and teacher has the opportunities and support they need to be successful? We have the know how. The real question is whether we have the will.

We have a long tradition of taking children who come to school with less, and then giving them less at school too – from the time they enter kindergarten till the time they graduate, if they make it to graduation. Whether we look at the amount of money actually spent on poor and minority students and schools, the conditions of the school buildings, labs, or textbooks in schools that poor and minority students attend, the qualifications of the teachers teaching poor and minority students, or the rigor of the courses and curriculum offered to poor and minority students – poor and minority students, by and large, get significantly less than their more affluent and white peers. And then we wonder why achievement gaps are so persistent.

In the end, it really is about the expectations we hold for students. Some will go to college, and our neighborhood schools provide them what they'll need to get there. But for others -- mostly Latino, African American and poor -- our expectations aren't very high, we don't think they can learn as much as their more advantaged peers. If we don't expect much, apparently, we don't give much either.


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