Same Old School Woes

A new report on the long-standing education achievement gap in public schools released Tuesday in Washington underscores the problem but offers few real solutions.

The Equity and Excellence Commission, a 27-member panel created by Congress, says there's an urgent need for change in the financing and management of urban schools such as Philadelphia's.

The Washington Post reports in detail.

The commission is the result of legislation passed in 2010 sponsored by Democratic California Rep. Michael Honda and Democratic Philly Rep. Chaka Fattah (who has long pushed this issue).

Its conclusions aren't new: "While some young Americans — most of them white and affluent — are getting a truly world-class education, those who attend schools in high poverty neighborhoods are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations."

The result is an ongoing underclass defined by race and income (40 percent of American kids attend high-poverty schools) that threatens the nation's long-term economic stability.

“Ten million students in America’s poorest communities . . . are having their lives unjustly and irredeemably blighted by a system that consigns them to the lowest-performing teachers, the most run-down facilities, and academic expectations and opportunities considerably lower than what we expect of other students...these vestiges of segregation, discrimination and inequality are unfinished business for our nation.”

If this sounds familiar it's because it's been said before, over and over, in state, local and national reports, by other commissions, by policy wonks and politicians.

All stress early education. Last year, for example, Philly DA Seth Williams pushed a "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" effort arguing that more public funding of pre-school programs can cut crime and prison costs.

An Inky editorial at the time noted "Pennsylvania spends some $2.3 billion annually on corrections and $340 million on early-childhood programs. The math should be simple."

Again, an old argument.

And, as always, the principle solution offered in Tuesday's report is to end reliance on property taxes to fund public education and to have states and the federal government send more money to urban and low-income school districts.

The commission did not suggest where to get the money for schools that property taxes now provide.

How long has this been going on? The Post notes a commission called for by President Nixon concluded as long as property taxes fund local schools poor kids are condemned to an education achievement gap.

That was in 1972.