Academic journal article Education Next

Equity Trumps Excellence: Among News Media, Competition Less Important Than Achievement Gap

Academic journal article Education Next

Equity Trumps Excellence: Among News Media, Competition Less Important Than Achievement Gap

Article excerpt

An axiom of American education policy is that it waxes and wanes between equity and excellence. And these rhythms are attuned to the business cycle.

Take the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Head Start, two fronts of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. As Charles Murray explained in his seminal work, Losing Ground, poverty wasn't anywhere to be seen on the policy agenda in 1960. And for good reason: after 15 years of a booming economy, in the wake of the Great Depression and then World War II, poverty had dropped dramatically. Living conditions were on the rise. Prosperity was widely shared.

What changed? The civil rights movement became ascendant and started to raise expectations, Michael Harrington published The Other America, and the issue was suddenly on everyone's lips. As political scientist James Stimson would say, the public's mood had shifted. Just a few years later, President Johnson envisioned the Great Society and implored his countrymen to help the "forgotten fifth." The timing was no coincidence, argues Murray. The country was eager to do something about poverty because it could afford to do so.

And so Title I and Head Start were born, and with them a focus on narrowing the gaps in educational opportunity between black and white, rich and poor. Equity was dominant.

Fast-forward to 1983. After a decade of oil shocks and stagflation, and growing economic threats from Japan, the U.S. economy was in the midst of its worst recession in a generation. Social programs were under attack. And A Nation at Risk was born, with its warnings about a "rising tide of mediocrity." With Ronald Reagan's help, the pendulum had shifted to excellence.

That's where it stayed for the next 15 years, giving birth to several iterations of the standards movement, efforts to raise graduation standards, and the beginnings of test-based accountability.

By the late 1990s, the economy was roaring again. To everyone's surprise, the national debt evaporated. Wages rose, even for the poorest. Equity came back in style. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.