In a Diverse America, an Equity Agenda is the Practical Agenda

By Mac LeBuhn, Policy Analyst

Education reformers often refer to two gaps in our school system: the achievement gap, which refers to the gap between minority and low-income student groups and the general student population and the excellence gap, which refers to the gap between the United States and the highest-performing countries in the world.

I was thinking about the two during a recent discussion on “All-In Nation,” a report on an increasingly diverse America produced by Center for American Progress and PolicyLink. As the student population grows more diverse, the relationship between the excellence gap and the achievement gap will continue to grow tighter. Consider the below graph.

Based on the 2010 Census, the United States is on track to become a majority-minority country around 2050, as whites will constitute less than half of the population. Some state school systems are already far past this mark. In California, home to the largest educational system in the country, black and Latino students make up 57 percent of the student population. In Texas, the country’s second largest system, black and Latino students comprise 63 percent of the overall population.

Given this emerging reality, it is clear that the excellence and achievement gap are bound up in each other: as a country, we cannot aspire to close the excellence gap unless we confront the fact that the emerging majority of American students are struggling under the inequity of today’s achievement gap. An equity agenda is also the practical agenda for those working to produce an excellent school system.

“All-In Nation,” in addition to highlighting our increasingly diverse population, investigated reactions to this expanding diversity through a major survey. They found:

70 percent agree that “Americans will learn more from one another and be enriched by exposure to many different cultures.”
69 percent agree that “diverse workplaces and schools will help make American businesses more innovative and competitive.”

These are encouraging numbers. Far beyond the 1990s aspiration of ‘tolerance’ of diversity, most Americans think that diversity is something to be encouraged—it’s a good thing for our country. At the same time, many are cognizant of the racial inequities that exist within our diverse society. Listed among income inequality, the wealth gap, low economic mobility and several other racially-based inequities, it was educational inequity that respondents indicated was the most serious problem. The upshot? Americans recognize both the benefits of a diverse society and the importance of confronting the challenges accompanying that diversity, most notably within education.

Take a look both at the survey and the associated policy recommendations.

Mac LeBuhn is a policy analyst at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Before joining DFER, Mac was a fourth grade teacher at Rocketship Si Se Puede, a charter school in San Jose, CA. He became interested in education policy through internships at the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston.