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New Student Orientation, Constitution Day and Comprehensive Educational Equity

New students, at one of the many New Student Orientation events, and the TC community, on Constitution Day, were asked to think about educational equity and the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education.

On Sept 5th, new TC students packed the Lerner Hall at Columbia for a forum on educational equity given by Richard Rothstein and Professors Rebell, Gordon, Luthar, Wells and Huerta.  The forum was chaired by Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity and based on Rothstein's recent book Class and Schools (TC Press 2004).  Rothstein is a Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute and consultant to TC's Equity Campaign. Professor Rothstein was the featured speaker at the forum and discussed the disparities in academic achievement between black and white students in the larger social and economic context in which people live.  While Rothstein agreed that schools should do the best job possible, other factors such as adequate housing, access to health care and economic security should be examined.  Rothstein called upon the new students who are planning on becoming teachers "to use their insights to become advocates to create a more equitable society."  From the fields of mental health, sociology, political science, and psychology, the four other faculty members on the panel offered their reactions to Professor Rothstein's thesis.

This theme carried over to Constitution Day at TC.  Constitution Day is mandated by federal law: starting in 2005, all schools that receive any federal funding must hold a Constitution Day event.  Congress passed this provision with the intent to increase knowledge at all ages of the U.S. Constitution.  "Did Brown v. Board of Education Promise Comprehensive Educational Equity?" was the topic for discussion at TC's Constitution Day event.  This two-hour event, sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Community and the Campaign for Educational Equity, was open to the entire TC community and started with a lecture by Michael Rebell in Milbank Chapel. Rebell discussed the broader implications of Brown and the difficulties that the federal courts ran into in fully implementing the Brown decision which held that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.  The Brown court's vision was equal educational opportunity for all students and the federal courts struggled to implement that vision according to Rebell.  But the federal courts began to withdraw from enforcing the Brown vision and state courts became the place to continue to fight for equal educational opportunity. 

Next Rebell asked the group to think about what it would really take to realize the Brown vision -- equal educational opportunity.  "We need to define a substantive base level of opportunity that society must accord each individual to provide him or her a fair start.  The issue is: what are the most important impediments that need to be overcome? What is that substantive base level necessary to provide equality of educational opportunity?" Would this be comprehensive educational equity?" said Rebell. 

The audience then broke down into small groups each lead by two TC faculty members and discussed these questions.  Lively discussions ensued and more questions emerged from the groups. 

In the end, Constitution Day at TC was true to the intention of the new law.  Many people thought long and hard about what kind of America the Framers envisioned when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

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