June 13, 2019
WASHINGTON — A centralized, consistently reported system of indicators of educational equity is needed to bring attention to disparities in the U.S. education system, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Indicators — measures used to track performance and monitor change over time — can help convey why disparities arise, identify groups most affected by them, and inform policy and practice measures to improve equity in pre-K through 12th grade education.
Societal inequities influence nearly every aspect of students’ education — including their academic performance, the classes they take, their access to enrichment opportunities, and their school’s approach to discipline.
The report, Monitoring Educational Equity, says the system should include indicators that fall into two categories. The first category of indicators should measure and track disparities in student outcomes such as kindergarten academic readiness, coursework performance, and on-time graduation. The second category should measure and track disparities in students’ access to resources and opportunities, such as high-quality pre-K programs, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum, and non-academic supports.
The purpose of a system of equity indicators, the report says, is not to simply track progress toward educational goals, but also to identify differences in critical outcomes and opportunities across key subgroups. The report discusses gender, race and ethnicity, English-language fluency, family income, and disability status. Educational disparities may also be attributed circumstances in students’ homes and neighborhoods, in addition to the school environment.
“We imagine public education to be America’s great engine of upward mobility and, ultimately, equality,” said Christopher Edley Jr., professor and former dean at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “A good system of indicators can help measure how much we repair — or reinforce — the great divides in opportunity. Indicators help us understand how opportunities affect outcomes, and whether we match those opportunities with student needs.”
The committee argued that educational equity is as important, if not more important, as other measures of a country’s well-being, including economic and employment progress. The monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation Summary, commonly known as the “monthly jobs report,” is well-known, well-publicized, and regularly used to inform policy decisions. Similarly, an annual “Education Equity Summary” could systematically inform national, state, and local stakeholders about the status of educational equity in the U.S., the report says. Such information would help target interventions, research, and policy initiatives to reduce disparities.
The committee proposed 16 indicators of educational equity. Of those 16 indicators, seven are related to disparities in student outcomes and are grouped across the stages of K-12 education:
K-12 Learning and Engagement
The remaining nine indicators are related to disparities in access to opportunities and resources:
Extent of Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Segregation
Equitable Access to High-Quality Early Childhood Education
Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction
Equitable Access to Supportive School and Classroom Environments
A national system of indicators would enable valid comparisons of school, district, and state performance across a number of important student outcomes and resources. The report recommends that the federal government — under the guidance of an advisory board — work with states, school districts, and educational intermediaries to develop the national equity indicator system and incorporate it into their relevant data collection.
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity — was sponsored by the American Educational Research Association, Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, Spencer Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, William T. Grant Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.