If there’s one message the articles in this special theme issue of Education Canada send out loud and clear, it’s that true equity in an educational context is the by-product of a society in which equity is an inherent value. Schools and school systems charged with the task of “closing the gap” while simultaneously “raising the bar” are hard pressed to deliver unless broader social policies are in place to ensure that all children have the supports they need outside, as well as inside the classroom.
As the authors in this issue remind us repeatedly, we will not improve student outcomes across the board by testing and punishing; we will only do it by ensuring that the best educational practices are in place for all children.
Canada is at an advantage here. Its history of collective action and collective responsibility has given birth to a more inclusive network of social supports, an educational funding model that fosters equity, and a relative willingness to pony up for the taxman. As a result, the Canadian public education systems, as a whole, outperform those in the U.S. in terms of both equity and outcomes.
But, lest we Canadians become too smug, we need to remind ourselves that many children in our country – including a scandalously large number of Aboriginal children – still live in conditions that diminish their educational and life chances.
It’s also important to note that the American school system features pockets of unparalleled excellence and experimental practices that have sprung from that nation’s historical commitment to innovation and individual freedom. Dedicated educators have implemented programs to compensate for the inequities that disadvantage poor and visible-minority students.
Schools and school systems can do a lot to improve both equity and outcomes. But it’s an uphill and often lonely battle to close the gap without the universal social supports that take some of the burden off the schools, themselves. And a commitment to equity alone, without a simultaneous commitment to improved practices and “raising the bar”, threatens to mire educational systems in a state of perpetual mediocrity.
The challenge, then, is to marry the social values of inclusion and equity with the determination to seek out the best possible practices – and then apply them to all children in all schools. The contributors to this special issue of Education Canada make it clear that Canada and the U.S. have much to learn from each other.