Contributing Writer

A panel of faculty members participated in American Education Week at the College in the Brooks House Great Room Monday. Students and faculty had the opportunity to listen to the panel as they discussed the question: “Is equity in American education possible?” The Office of Student & Post-Graduate Development and Students for Education Reform (SFER) co-sponsored the event.

Donnell J. Butler, Ph.D. ’95, senior associate dean for planning & analysis of student outcomes; Katherine McClelland, Ph.D., professor of sociology; and Shawn Jenkins ’10, special assistant to the dean of the College for strategic projects served as panelists.

The first part of the panel discussion was dedicated to questions ranging from “What is wrong with Teach For America’s model?” to “If you could change one thing in education today what would it be?” In the second half, audience members asked the panelists questions.

Butler began the panel by providing the audience with an overview of the history of education in America. He pointed out how education does not appear anywhere in our country’s Constitution. However, after WWII, politicians saw two benefits to having an educated population. The first was to teach Americans citizenry and the second was to prepare Americans for the job market. Butler spoke of education from a political viewpoint, explaining the benefits policymakers, both conservatives and liberals, have seen and continue to see in having an educated population.

McClelland spoke of education from a socioeconomic perspective. She said for a long time in America, wealth and education have been intertwined and education is a right everyone should have access to. Also, she noted the vast disparity in the quality of education in wealthy areas in comparison to poorer communities.

All the panelists spoke to the question: “Does everyone need to go to college?”

The consensus of the group was not everyone does. However, McClelland noted in order to have equity in education there needs to be economic equity among Americans. Most people see obtaining a college degree as a way of ensuring financial security and this is why they go to college.

Jenkins, who is the organizer of F&M’s College Prep Program, spoke briefly about his experience with the program. It seeks to provide a transitional program for rising-seniors by helping them prepare for college. Programs like these help level the playing field for young people seeking higher education by promoting equity among students who may have received a subpar education.

An additional point raised during the discussion was teachers, as professionals, are not respected in the ways other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers are, and this is evident in their on-average lower salaries. This, the panelist agreed, is one factor contributing to the poor public education system in this country.

After receiving questions from audience members, the panelists concluded that equity in America’s education system was possible, by changing local control, funding, and the motivation of teachers.

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