Classroom Equity

A study by a group called the Campaign for Educational Equity has found that schools in poor neighborhoods still lack critical resources—several high schools, in fact, are in such dire straits that they don’t offer classes in chemistry and physics.

That’s sad. The question is whether this is a matter of money, or a question of resource allocation, efficiency and priorities.

After conducting a survey of 33 schools in low-income areas, the Campaign for Educational Equity concluded that the problem is money. That conclusion shouldn’t surprise anybody—the group, after all, is led by Michael Rebell, an attorney who served as executive director of another group, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which sued the state to obtain a fairer share of overall state education money for the city.

There’s no question that resources are important, because things like class size, classroom technology and quality instructors don’t come cheap. Nor should they.

But there comes a point when it is fair to ask whether or not the billions devoted to public education are being spent productively. That’s the question that advocates have to ask. After all, New York spends more per student than any other state, and yet, as frustrated officials know, success remains elusive. The recent study proves the point—many of the schools surveyed do not meet key learning standards.

So, is money the solution? The answer seems clear: not entirely. Not if poor teachers continued to hold down jobs because of reactionary tenure rules. Not if highly paid administrators and bureaucrats soak up money that might be better spent on instruction. Not if creativity and innovation are suppressed in the name of business as usual.

Yet there are those who contend that all would be well if only Albany—which, let’s remember, is not exactly flush with cash—would funnel more money into inner-city schools. That’s not the issue, although, to be sure, New York City deserves its rightful share of state aid.

Advocates need to provide prospective solutions that are more creative, more complex, than a simple demand for more money. Of course, there are proposals out there that could make a difference—like merit pay and revised seniority rules.

Those issues are more contentious than rote requests for more money. But that’s where the debate over public education is moving, and advocates should join the movement.