Next week’s election will be especially consequential for California’s children and young people. The leaders we choose will make decisions that will have an impact on the lives of millions of students, including our own.
Both of us have children, two currently in public school and one entering kindergarten next year. We are also leaders in an educational advocacy and racial justice organization. In many ways, the personal is political – and the political is very personal — for both of us. Nearly all of our waking hours are spent focused on children, whether in a meeting with a school district leader or college faculty member or reading to our own children before they close their eyes and we open our email inboxes again.
When it comes to advocating for our own kids, we have advantages. We have our well-honed advocacy expertise and an awareness of how to navigate the system. And so we know, firsthand, that we have resources that many parent advocates don’t when it comes to fighting for their children. We know what it is like to walk into our child’s classroom, or a district meeting, to offer our perspectives, to help, to be part of the “local control” planning process we fought for.
We unfortunately also know, firsthand and despite the advantages we have, what it is like to be given limited or misleading information as a parent, to hesitate to voice a concern for fear of being dismissed, to wonder if our children are on track, and to worry about whether we have fought enough for their futures.
This should not be a fight. But it is. It is a fight in California, a state that has the highest poverty rate in the nation despite being the fifth largest economy in the world. Education equity should not be a fight in California, but it is.
It is therefore not surprising to us that when our organization recently polled Latino, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander parents, they overwhelmingly named K-12 education as the top priorityfor our next governor.
Many of these parents know firsthand what the data show to be true statewide: Licensed early learning facilities are in scarce supply in low-income communities.Advanced math and science courses are more plentiful in affluent schools, and in nearly all schools Latino and Black students are underrepresented in those classes. Only some of the students who are eligible for college financial aid receive it. California’s schools have the nation’s largest class sizes and the fewest counselors per student. And while public university enrollments have increased, state spending on a per-student basis for our universities has declined over the last 30 years.
These outcomes are the product of choices, not accidents. The state decides how much it invests in education and other services that support children and young people. A school, district, or college gets to decide how to allocate resources like counselors, tutoring, advanced courses, or teacher professional learning time. At the end of the day, these choices and their results are both a matter of educational justice.
It is important to acknowledge that on a statewide level, we’ve made progress when it comes to passing policies that support equity. From the adoption of a new English Learner Roadmap to the creation of more equitable funding models at both the K-12 and community college levels, our state leaders have taken decisive actions that move us along the path toward educational equity and justice.
Yet these policies will only translate into meaningful change if educators and administrators at the local level come together with students and families to implement them. That’s because it’s not policies that improve educational opportunities, it’s people who are close to students who do that—including teachers, faculty members, campus and school administrators, parents, paraprofessionals, community providers, and more. However, when we asked parents how possible they feel it is to make a difference in their local schools, just over half of Black and Latino parents, and only 1 out of 3 Asian Pacific Islander parents think it’s very possible for parents to make a difference in improving school performance.
As parents and advocates, this frustrates us. Parents shouldn’t have to fight for their voices to matter. As leaders of Ed Trust-West, we push our state and local leaders and empower community stakeholders to demand the very best education for all students—which is no less than what we want for our own children. Our organization’s policy agenda is a call to actionfor significant changes now. What exactly do we think needs to be done in the years ahead?
Families and students know that resources matter, so we urge state leaders to adequately fund our system – which means raising revenue, solving our pension crisis, and making college affordable. Parents want to know how their students are progressing on the path to and through college, so we urge state leaders to track student growth over time, invest in rigorous STEM and college readiness opportunities for all students, and build better data systems.
We know these policies alone won’t move the needle fast enough without effective implementation. We see our policy agenda as one part of a larger movement for educational justice that simply cannot happen without the partnership of families, students, and other community stakeholders.
There can no longer be complacency with incrementalism when it comes to education equity in California. The stakes are too high for our children, for our state, and for our nation. Let’s get to work.
Carrie Hahnel and Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Ph.D., are Interim Co-Executive Directors of The Education Trust-West.
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