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Education Law Prof Blog: Can Education Be Reformed Without Equality?

On its face, the title of this post is rhetorical, but the authors of Badass Teachers Unite! would argue it is the key question dividing themselves and "reformers."  For those unfamiliar, Badass Teachers is a group--not quite as radical as their name might suggest-- that "is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning."  They charge that reformers are taking the position

that schools in depressed areas can be radically improved without doing anything to improve conditions in the neighborhoods they are located in, [which] flies in the face of the common sense of anyone who lives or works in such communities, so much so that it represents a form of collective madness! The idea that an entire urban school system (not a few favored schools) can be uplifted strictly through school-based reforms, such as eliminating teacher tenure or replacing public schools with charter schools, without changing any of the conditions driving people further into poverty is contrary to anyone’s lived experience and has in fact, never been accomplished anywhere in the world. Let me break down for you what the no excuses approach to school reform means in commonsense terms.

Among the inequalities that must be addressed and which reformers ignore, the authors list homelessness, housing instability, hunger, racial profiling, violence, employment, and criminal justice.  

I don't know that all of those problems and barriers must be addressed to ensure all children receive an adequate education. Inadequate education is the cause of, not the effect of, some of them.  But their point is well taken.  To almost no avail, civil rights advocates have increasingly lamented the disregard for inequality for the past decade.  Groups such of this have, over the past year or so, done more than anyone to put the issue back into public discourse.

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Derek W. Black

Derek Black is one of the nation’s foremost experts in education law and policy.  He focuses on educational equality, school funding, the constitutional rig...