EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions For … John Jackson, Schott Foundation President, on Equity, Quality and the Opportunity to Learn

John Jackson is president and chief executive officer of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which focuses on issues of preK-12 equity and opportunity. He spoke with EWA about voter concerns, the Opportunity to Learn Campaign, and a new report suggesting low-quality schools are threatening America’s national security.

1. A new poll conducted by the College Board identified education as the “sleeper issue” of the 2012 election cycle in key states.  Does it feel like we’re reaching a tipping point?

I think people are feeling the impact of the recession, they’re feeling the impact of seeking employment and paying higher gas prices, and they’re looking for opportunity. Historically, opportunity has been linked to some form of education, whether it’s technical training or college. What we’re seeing now is parents who recognize their own need to find additional training, and also desiring a better chance for their children.

2. So concern over education has become multigenerational, rather than just parents worried about what will happen to their own families?

There’s definitely both a “now” and a “future” anxiety.  People are asking, “What do I do to make myself more employable, and what do I do to make sure my child is ready to take advantage of opportunities.” The intersection of that is education.

3. The Opportunity to Learn Campaign, a five-year, $5 million outreach initiative, has said that four core resources are needed to improve public schools: high-quality early childhood education, highly prepared and effective teachers, a college prep curriculum for all students, and equitable instructional materials. How would focusing on equity address underlying issues about quality?

You can’t start a conversation about closing the achievement gap without talking about the opportunity gap, which has been persistent in our country for many years. Without addressing the opportunity gap, we can’t expect students to have the kind of transformative learning experiences that will close the achievement gap.

Equity and quality walk hand in hand. We don’t want to close the achievement gap by holding back the kids at the top. We just want cities, states and the federal government to provide the support so that the students who are at the bottom can run much faster.

4. A task force created by the Council on Foreign Relations recently called the state of the nation’s public education system a threat to national security. Do you agree with the report?

The underlying finding of the report is correct. If we don’t fix our education system, it’s a threat to our democracy, economy and national security. But where the report falls far short is on identifying solutions. What the report proposed – more school choice options – could only affect a few localities. Vouchers have not proven to be a national solution, and charter schools only educate 4 percent of our students. And of that 4 percent, the CREDO study found that only 17 percent of them were doing better academically than their comparable peers at traditional public schools.

5. From the standpoint of the task force’s report, what solution would you propose?

To me, if it’s a national threat, then let’s approach it like we approach our national issues. Let’s go to the Department of Defense. Their on-base campuses have outperformed our public schools for a number of years. They’ve already realized that to have strong outcomes, you need equitable solutions.

Regardless of a military person’s rank, they all send their children to the same school on base. You don’t have soldiers or officers living in impoverished situations without the appropriate support for their families to survive. They approach education from the desire to create an ecosystem where students have an opportunity to learn.

If the state of public education is a national security issue, let’s approach it with a national plan that includes appropriate levels of federal support. Anything short of that is not a serious conversation or plan to address the national threat.  

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.