Much Consensus on New Directions for Education in the South, New Report Finds
Poll results encouraging for advocates of equity in school funding
In focus groups, voters in the South had a hard time relating the term “equity” to public education, a new report shows. But it’s clear they understand the concept, bringing up inequities organically in conversation and supporting the idea of addressing the differences in quality and funding that exist in schools across their states—a finding reinforced by a related poll.
The Education Poll of the South shows that—regardless of political affiliation, location, race, age or gender—there is much consensus on new directions for education in that region. It was commissioned by the Columbia Group*, which consists of seven nonpartisan organizations that work to improve education in the South, and asked registered voters across 10 Southern states and portions of Florida and Virginia their views on improving education.
The poll found that “improving the economy and creating jobs” and “improving K-12 public education” are the top issues that respondents want their state and local elected officials to address. When it comes to education, they prioritize ensuring all children have equal opportunity to get a good education; ensuring more effective teachers in the classroom; and preparing high school students for the real world by teaching more life skills. Ensuring all students and schools have adequate resources and opportunities to learn at high levels and helping high school students be prepared after high school with vocational or job training ranked high as well.
The poll also found that regardless of political party, ethnicity or geography, voters believe that differences exist in education funding across their states (overall, 64% recognize differences; 12% say public schools are funded evenly; 24% don’t know). And there is overwhelming support for adjusting the school funding system to ensure greater fairness among poor and wealthier communities (83% support; 9% oppose).
These results helped informed a new report, Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South, which also offers a short history of modern education reform in the South, including, unfortunately, increases in achievement gaps between 2005 and 2015 in many Southern states.
In the report, the Columbia Group issues a new challenge for improving education in the South:
While Southern states have made great strides in many areas of education, the rapid economic and demographic changes in the region require states to make more progress — and at a faster pace. States must ﬁnally deal with the historic inequities in education that continue to hold back many parts of the region. This means all of the South’s children should have a rigorous and engaging education, and students who are behind or historically underserved should receive the extra help and support they need to narrow the gap between them and their peers.
To help meet that challenge, they call on state leaders and educators to focus on four main priority areas for improvement:
- Make the South the best place to teach in the nation. Teachers and principals who have the talent, preparation and continued support they need to help students succeed.
- Provide new types of academic—and nonacademic—support for today’s students. Students need an array of support systems to help them deal with physical and emotional health issues that can impact their learning.
- Clear all students’ path from high school to their next steps in education and work. Build a much stronger bridge from high school into college, career training or a good job.
- Ensure resources are adequate and targeted. Invest in education to meet the needs of every child, and consider additional support for students who need the most help to catch up.
Interesting to us at the Learning First Alliance is how well these priority areas align with the elements we recently presented in our new compendium, The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work.
Learn more and review the complete report and findings at http://www.gpee.org/policy-issues/columbia-group/.
*The Columbia Group includes the A+ Education Partnership in Alabama; Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education; Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky; Education's Next Horizon in Louisiana; Mississippi First; Public School Forum of North Carolina; and Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).