Equitable Access to High-Quality Instruction in California
Dorin Shen is Senior Product Strategist for Canvas, the open online learning management system (LMS) that makes teaching and learning easier. Through open, usable, cloud-based technologies, Canvas enables easy integration of the content, tools, and services that teachers need and students want. As the most usable, customizable, adaptable, and reliable learning platform (think 99.9% uptime), Canvas is used in more ways by more users than any other LMS.
(By Dorin Shen) California is a unique state. We have a rich history of thought leadership in a lot of different social justice areas. We’re known for our ability to innovate and we also have one of the most diverse populations in the US. In public education, equitable access to high-quality instruction is (and should be) vitally important. We know that a great public education lifts individuals out of poverty and is linked to a wide variety of other benefits like better health, increased job outcomes, and even longer lives. I care about California specifically because it’s my home state and because I see an opportunity for us to lead the nation in educational equality. This is why the mission of providing students with equitable access to high-quality instruction is crucial in California.
California has led the way as a trailblazer for educational equality. In 1947, Mendez v. Westminster was the first case brought to trial arguing that educational opportunity shouldn’t be dependent on where you live. The judge in that case found “A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality.” The more familiar Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 followed the precedent set in the Mendez case and led to national policy changes in support of equity and opportunities for all. Given that history, we might expect California to now be leading the nation in educational outcomes, but there are also larger obstacles in our way.
Research shows that children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families develop academic skills slower than their peers from higher SES groups (Morgan, Farkas, Hillemeier, & Maczuga, 2009). According to the American Community Survey, 40 percent of US families with school-age children (ages 6-17) have household incomes below $50,000. A UCLA study found that high schools with students from low-income households lose almost two weeks of learning time every year, compared to more affluent high schools. California has more than six million public school students in grades K-12–that’s 12 percent of all US public school students. And almost 60 percent of them are from low-income households.
A slower pace for learning isn’t the only educational downside of growing up poor. Roughly one-third of this low-income group does not have high-speed internet at home. Low SES students will enter the job market with fewer of the necessary skills to be successful in higher-wage jobs. The digital divide is real.
Additionally, one out of every five students in California is an English language learner. That’s 1.3 million students. That means three out of every ten English language learners in the US go to school in California! Also, California students come from families speaking more than 65 different home languages. These stats do not paint the whole picture of California, but they do help convey the desperate need of providing students with equitable access to high-quality instruction.
There’s a thing that’s profoundly unique and noble in K-12: we want every student to get a golden ticket – a shot at improving their lives through education. We don’t want this to be based on luck, or where they live. When it comes to education, we want to level the playing field. And isn’t that what education is really all about? Leveling the playing field. Equipping our students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the future. We must help to create a space in school where students have equity and access to content, instruction, and personalized learning. Opportunities to reflect and collaborate with peers create a playing field where it’s safe to try new things, experiment, and learn from failure as well as success. This gives students ownership of their learning journey.
Equity is the reason educators do what they do. It’s a professional and social obligation to their students. I have that same obligation to educators because I work for a company that builds educational software. I want to help build space where every educator has the tools they need to provide every student with equitable access to high-quality instruction, and not just in California, but everywhere.
Historically, California has been the first in many things, a champion for social justice, and the home of many of the greatest innovations in the last century. Let’s continue to build on the foundation of equity in education in California. Our entrepreneurial innovation can once again lead the way for the entire nation because there’s no finish line in the race for equity in education.