Coalition Assails Reform Movement for Ignoring Equity Issues

By Anne Bridgman — October 10, 1984 4 min read

Washington--The excellence movement is “implicitly” ignoring or rejecting the goal of equity in education, speakers charged last week at a meeting held by an education coalition of 50 organizations representing 7 million women and minorities.

Members of the Citizens Council on Women’s Education (ccwe), a project of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, also endorsed the civil-rights act of 1984--the measure tabled by the Senate last week--and urged participants to vote against legislators who failed to back that and other legislation affecting equity in education.

Platform for 1984

“We actively support the civil-rights act of 1984, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, the Vocational Education Act, math- and science-education legislation, and the enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” said Barbara Stein, chairman of the coalition and a rights specialist with the National Education Association.

“That is our platform for 1984--and we intend to vote it into reality,” she said. “Make no mistake, we will be watching these votes, we will be matching the faces with the rhetoric and footdragging, and we will remember those who used their power and their public trust to perpetuate discrimination in this country.”

Voters should ask candidates, “What will you do to see that equity becomes an essential component of our schools’ drive to achieve excellence?” Ms. Stein said.

Equal Opportunity

In its platform, the coalition also endorsed citizens’ efforts to ensure that the public debate over the quality of education includes an emphasis on equal educational opportunity for women and girls of all ages and all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Leslie R. Wolfe, director of the Project on Equal Education Rights for the now Legal Defense and Education Fund and former executive director of the Women’s Educational Equity Act program, echoed a major theme of the meeting, which was en-titled “Educational Equity: A Survival Issue.”

“We are concerned that the education-reform movement is implicitly rejecting our equity goals,” she said.

“If 1983 was the year of the education reports, the year that America’s confidence in its school system came up for questioning, let 1984 be the year that America reaffirmed its commitment to excellence in our schools--but to real excellence, one which knows that equity and equality of opportunity are essential to its achievement,” said Ms. Stein.

Members of the coalition criticized the education reports issued in the last 18 months--including the National Commission on Excellence in Education’s “A Nation at Risk"--because, the speakers said, they stressed excellence without taking equity into consideration.

“Americans will not condone a drive for educational excellence that is purchased at the expense of equity,” said Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, co-chairman of ccwe, former president of the nea, and former head of the Women’s Bureau in the Labor Department. “Excellence without equity is elitism. Quality without equality is not the principle upon which this country was founded.”

‘Have To Struggle’

Anne Campbell, a member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the former commissioner of education in Nebraska, and a former president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said she supported the recommendations of the commission’s report, “A Nation at Risk.”

But she told participants that “we’re going to have to struggle” to catch the public’s attention again to help women in education. Governors and legislatures have “jumped into the fray” of the reform movement, she said, but may be moving so hastily that they are not taking equity issues into account.

“We will not be a nation at risk if we involve all of the children, all of the people,” she said.

Economic Issues

Several speakers associated the issue of equal opportunities for women and minorities in education with the earning capacities of those groups in the workforce.

“Equity will bring with it the gen-eration of income, and as a result, healthy economic growth,” said Virginia R. Allan, co-chairman of the citizens’ council.

“It is because we feel that the critical issues of access to equal opportunity--in education and later in the workforce--have disappeared from the national debate over the future of our schools that we have come to-gether today,” said Ms. Stein. “There is no economic recovery without equal opportunity. There is no excellence without equity.”

Ms. Koontz said she was concerned that the nation supports a defense build-up “with a price tag of billions of dollars,” while at the same time “we must beg for crumbs for the education and training needs of minorities, girls, and disabled citizens who will work to sustain our nation’s productivity and prosperity.”

“It is time that we said openly that this national debate over the future of our schools is not merely about education,” she said. “When we talk about education today, we are talking about access, access to money, power, and privilege, and that is why access to education has risen to the top of this nation’s agenda.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1984 edition of Education Week as Coalition Assails Reform Movement for Ignoring Equity Issues