President’s Message: Mike Walsh
Equity in action: Meeting the potential of every student in California

In January 2016, CSBA’s Board of Directors directed the organization to “drive the education policy agenda to ensure high-quality education for every student by addressing adequacy and opportunity gaps.” I have rarely been prouder of CSBA then when the board affirmed its commitment to equity with this strategic priority. While I’m just as proud today of CSBA’s work towards that goal, recent developments have caused me to reflect on that day and what it will take to realize our ambitions for a school system that prepares every student — regardless of background — for success in college, career and civic life.

In late April, the U.S. Department of Education released a pair of reports that showed striking disparities between black students and their white peers, both in the area of school discipline and in education in the math and sciences. Where discipline is concerned, the study found that the rate at which African-American students were arrested or referred to police increased sharply in 2015–16, the most recent year for which data is available. While African-American students make up just 15 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for nearly a third of all students arrested at school or referred to law enforcement. Students with disabilities were also dramatically overrepresented in police encounters, representing 12 percent of the overall student enrollment and 28 percent of students in police encounters.

The other study was equally grim, detailing how large numbers of African-American and Latino students lack access to critical math and science courses — a topic we explore in depth at this month’s CSBA Leadership Institute in San Francisco. Among the more alarming statistics:
  • African-American students total 17 percent of the overall eighth grade enrollment, but only 11 percent of those enrolled in Algebra 1.
  • Latinos account for 25 percent of student enrollment, but only 18 percent of those taking Algebra 1.
  • Eighty-five percent of white students passed Algebra 1 in eighth grade, while 74 percent of Asian students, 72 percent of Latino students and 65 percent of African-American students did.

While there are pockets of universal access and excellence, both here in California and nationwide, it’s clear that is not the norm. Funding deficits that prevent schools from providing proper supports and intervention, scheduling enough classes to serve all students, ensuring all schools have proficient teachers in hard-to-staff subjects and equipping school buildings with needed technology and science labs fuel the inequity, as do persistent beliefs that black and brown students are not as gifted in math in science.

As educators, it’s incumbent upon us to fight against retrograde beliefs and the culture of low expectations, and to advocate for the resources needed to provide all students with a high-quality education. It’s this idea that inspired CSBA’s support for Assembly Bill 2635, a bill to increase funding for the lowest-performing group of students in California schools. That bill led to a compromise in the budget package Gov. Brown signed on June 28, providing an additional $300 million in funds for California’s lowest-performing students across all ethnicities.

We’ll need many more of those victories to live up to the goals of CSBA’s strategic priority, and, more importantly, to the promise of California public schools. Equity in rhetoric is one thing, equity in action is quite another.