the late w. norton grubb, a Professor Emeritus of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and founding member of the Race, Diversity, and Educational Policy Cluster, argued that the U.S.’s long-standing belief that education could remedy social and economic problems was misguided. He and his co-author revealed how our society’s faith-like commitment to this belief has lead to the virtual neglect of any other form of social policy and often reinforced social inequality. While attempting to dispel this idea, they simultaneously suggest that schools do have a role to play, noting that educational policies should incorporate more expansive goals and approaches to engaging all learners in various communities to address social inequality and the maintenance of our democracy (Grubb & Lazerson, 2007).
Much of the research highlighted in this brief also suggests that our educational system cannot combat critical issues alone. While our schools are undoubtedly important institutions in furthering social equity, advancing educational policies that locate problems and solutions of inequity solely within schools obscures the historical and socioeconomic legacies that impact schools and communities, particularly for low-income and minority groups. In doing so, they fail to address how broader factors impact communities, schools, students, and families.
Each of the policy recommendations and approaches presented in this brief show how policy can attend to the broader factors affecting schools and communities alongside school improvement efforts. In committing to these policies, policymakers can mitigate the impact of structural disadvantage and better support the learning and development of all students, including those from nondominant populations.
Embracing this broader approach to educational policy also expands how many have understood and tried to address educational equity. Acknowledging and attending to how social and economic disadvantages impact marginalized youth and how local practices can exacerbate these obstacles challenges mainstream approaches that emphasize achievement gaps as the primary criterion for assessing educational inequity. It more accurately considers the many ways educational inequities are created and maintained. More importantly, enacting policies with this broader understanding of equity can provide a clearer picture of how to mitigate the persistence of inequities for many of our most vulnerable communities.
At its core, educational equity is about ensuring that all students and communities are able to have positive educational experiences regardless of race, class, ancestry, or creed. Positive learning experiences enable students and communities to flourish and confers a sense of dignity (Espinoza & Vossoughi, 2014), particularly to marginalized groups who have struggled to see their humanity and ability acknowledged and celebrated within society and our educational system. Ensuring that all students have their educational rights fulfilled through more equitable policies and improved schools can enable our system to transform from one that harms, dehumanizes, and marginalizes to one that confers to dignity to all groups and communities.