To ensure greater equity (or, to reduce the predictive value sociocultural and economic characteristics have on student achievement) in our educational system, the Five Freedoms Project helps school leaders address two pressing challenges — improving the performance of our public schools, and strengthening the effectiveness of our civic activism — at the same time.

These challenges are interdependent, and will remain so. Indeed, the poorest and least fortunate in our country are not just the least likely to succeed academically — they are also the most disenfranchised from our political process. As a 2004 task force on Inequality and American Democracy reported:

The privileged participate more than others and are increasingly well organized to press their demands on government. Citizens with low or moderate incomes speak with a whisper that is lost on the ears of inattentive government, while the advantaged roar with a clarity and consistency that policy makers readily hear.

The task ahead is clear — improving education and improving democracy go hand in hand. And a non-negotiable commitment to ensuring greater equity is the cornerstone of that work.

To measure their commitment to equity (of resources and opportunity), school leaders should consider tracking the extent to which:

  • The aspirations, strengths and weaknesses of each student are known by at least one member of the school staff
  • The school actively collaborates with its students’ families as partners in the students’ education
  • Students respect each other’s differences (e.g., gender, race, culture, etc.)
  • Adults respect each other’s differences (e.g., gender, race, culture, etc.)
  • The school’s pupil nondiscrimination policies and complaint procedures are comprehensive and effective
  • Staff and students are aware of these policies and complaint procedures and act in accordance with them
  • Teachers know and can use a rich variety of strategies to identify and accommodate individual learning styles and strengthen each student’s ability to learn in diverse ways
  • The community ensures that freedom of expression, including a due consideration for the rights of those holding dissenting or unpopular views, is protected
  • All people involved with the school feel they have a voice
  • The student government has been empowered to effectively address student and school problems and advance student interests
  • Students have opportunities to mentor other students and develop their leadership skills
  • The school believes passionately in empowering students, families, and community members to be contributing participants in their education, their community, and the diverse society in which we live

As the Forum for Education and Democracy explains, “the students most poorly served by the educational system go on to be adults with the least voice, involvement, and influence in their communities. Unless we make progress toward education for democratic participation, today’s underserved students will be tomorrow’s disenfranchised citizens — and quite possible the parents of the next generation of underserved students as well.”