Equity in education is a laudable goal. But it's very difficult to attain in the United States, with its thousands of school districts and 50 different state education authorities. Still, access to a good education is at the heart of America's commitment to equality of opportunity. It's an issue that can't be shrugged off as unachievable.
The latest equity battle concerns advanced placement (AP) courses in high school. A number of students from the largely black, low-income community of Inglewood are suing the state of California, charging that a lack of AP offerings at their local high school prevents them from competing with other college-bound students whose schools have an abundance of such courses.
AP credits on a student's record are heavily weighted by college admissions offices. They're often the edge that gets someone into prestigious schools.
The basic issue up to now has been that only wealthier communities can afford AP. But in recent years, some minority-dominated schools have had infusions of state and federal money in the push toward greater equity. So now a more difficult issue is how to hire and retain the teachers needed to conduct these virtually college-level courses in math, science, English, history.
And then there's the challenge of motivating students to take AP courses.
Certainly the students launching the lawsuit are motivated. But will there be enough interest to justify paying for all the AP teachers? Or, to ask that question another way, will offering such courses encounter enough demand to justify the cost?
The answer may depend on whether we want local communities, states, or Washington to resolve educational issues such as equity.
Do the states really want to take responsibility for all education? Something might be lost if communities - and parents - lose control of schools. Local control, as much as equal opportunity, has been a pillar of American education.
One solution may be for communities to share resources with neighboring schools that have aspiring students, the way vocational training has often been handled.
However this lawsuit is resolved, the admirably ambitious students from Inglewood raise an important point. All students who want to better themselves academically should have the opportunity.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society