I picked up a copy of Toward Excellence with Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap, by Ronald F. Ferguson, a mentor in graduate school. Though several of the book's chapters are already familiar from
his earlier work, this appears to be an important, timely compendium. So far, I've read only the introduction, in which
he justly suggests:
“. . . a social and cultural movement for excellence with equity—a movement that goes beyond the boundaries of the
schoolyard to include families, communities, out-of-school supports, youth culture, and civic engagement. The key conception
of equity is that group-level identities should be worthless as predictors of achievement. While all groups should rise toward
excellence, those farthest behind should rise most rapidly. . . . I call on all Americans to provide high-quality developmental
supports and experiences to children from all racial, ethnic, and social-class origins until excellence is a normal outcome
and membership in a particular group no longer predicts anything of consequence in our society. American rhetoric will then
have become our American reality.”
New Haven has benefited from an extensive State-supported
school construction and renovation program, totaling some $1.5 billion, over a decade. With building materials and other
costs rising, and with associated debt service a growing concern here and across Connecticut, the pace of the program has
slowed. Some school projects have been delayed, and efforts at "value engineering" have tried to save money
without meaningful effects on building quality.
The Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, concerned about school building costs there, is suggesting a
series of model high school (and perhaps eventually elementary/middle school) designs to limit costs of state-subsidized school
construction. Slopes, wetlands, and other issues could affect the feasibility of such modular designs.
The merits and applicability of such a program--given
practical, architectural as well as aesthetic considerations--are unclear. Still, the idea deserves study. While
pursuing high-quality learning environments, it should be possible--whether through model designs or simply architectural
imagination--to harness facilities savings for core educational purposes and budget relief.
According to "Treasurer wants limit to designs for schools," this July 18 Boston Globe article by James Vaznis and Rachana Rathi:
Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, trying to head off what he calls 'Taj Mahal' high schools . . . wants cities and towns
to begin using off-the-shelf building designs that could cut school-project costs by 30 percent."
to the report Growth and Disparity: A Decade of U.S. Public School Construction by Building Educational Success Together (BEST), Connecticut ranks second nationally
in school construction spending—and Massachusetts third—understandable given both states' relative wealth.
(BEST is a partnership that includes The 21st Century School Fund.)
The study looked at the period
1995-2004, during which the states that spent the most money per student on school construction were Alaska ($12,842), Connecticut
($11,345), and Massachusetts ($10,735), compared with a national average of $6519.
New Haven's school construction/renovation program has helped make its magnet
and other schools more appealing and to create more conducive learning environments for students and teachers. Increased
pre-kindergarten capacity, and use of the facilities for broader after-school and neighborhood purposes, have also resulted.
A new building is far from a guarantor of academic progress.
There are certainly cases of schools, locally as nationally, that
have achieved encouraging successes without new buildings—New Haven Academy (housed in swing space), for example, and
some charter schools come to mind. Historically in the U.S. as in other countries (e.g., India, where even now electrical
service is erratic and air-conditioning a luxury, let alone state-of-the art computing labs, swimming pools, and so on) serious
academic work has occurred despite the absence of the most advanced technologies.
Yet school spaces can be either a boon or a detriment to learning. Surely the academic improvements
at New Haven's King/Robinson School, for instance, have been eased by a building that is a radical change from the previous,
gloomy Robinson structure. Few affluent suburban public or private schools skimp on facilities. Stasis can bring
stagnation, especially in science and technology. Cities need to keep pace, to the extent possible with facilities as
with teacher quality and other fundamental priorities. The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education,
in contrast to Plessy v. Ferguson, concluded that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Vastly inferior facilities in segregated schools were part of the problem, something modern educators and cities are rightly
seeking to address to the extent resources allow.
report cited above, Growth and Disparity: A Decade of U.S. Public School Construction, demonstrates this point vividly.)
See (former New Haven resident)
Algernon's Austin's May 18 post, "Class and Racial Disparities in School Construction Spending" on his Thora Institute blog: http://www.thorainstitute.com
Also of possible interest: the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.