Betty Weller: Kirwan Gives Us a Unique Opportunity to Face Pervasive Inequities

“We must work together to fix as many as we can.”

James Baldwin said that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”

We know that there are massive inequities in our schools — by socioeconomic status, by neighborhood, and by race. We see these gaps in opportunities result in gaps in achievement.

In its review of Maryland school funding, the Kirwan Commission found that “Maryland spends 5% less on schools with students at-risk from poverty and poorly educated parents than it does on other students,” according to the Maryland Reporter. Most of the time, those schools are largely made up of minority students.

The influx of funding that must come as a result of the Kirwan Commission can play a major role in increasing equity and leveling the playing field for students. I wrote in a recent issue of ActionLine about how MSEA convened a Coalition for Equity that includes the Maryland State Department of Education, the NAACP of Maryland, the Greater Baltimore Urban League, Casa de Maryland, the Maryland PTA, the ACLU of Maryland, the associations representing Maryland’s school boards and superintendents, and other groups. Recently, this group sent a letter to the Commission recommending a number of equity-focused policies, among them making sure that teacher prep programs include equity training in their curricula; identifying strategies to build and support a more diverse educator workforce; and expanding community schools and pre-kindergarten.

Which brings me to Baldwin’s quote. Even if the Commission adopted these steps — and other smart, targeted, equity-conscious reforms, of which there are many — we may not be able to make our schools fully equitable for all students in the short term. Too many decades-old barriers exist in too many other policy areas beyond education. But we must face these pervasive inequities, not run from them. And we must work together to fix as many as we can. The Kirwan process gives us a unique opportunity to do just that and we must take full advantage of it.

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