Visualizing School Equity

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  • By examining the funding gap in their own state, students will learn about inequities in the system and begin to question why those inequities exist.

Materials Needed: 

  • Posterboard
  • markers
  • copies of "Crossing the Gap" (which you are free to duplicate)
  • access to the Internet or copies of The Education Trust's report titled "The Funding Gap." The report contains a state-by-state analysis of the public school funding gaps that affect students of color, students in poverty, and English Language Learners (ELLs) across the country.

This lesson plan is to accompany the Teaching Tolerance magazine article "Crossing the Gap"

We often teach our students that school segregation ended with Brown v. Board of Education, but the reality is not quite that simple. While schools today are not segregated by law, segregated housing patterns and unequal funding systems have concentrated students of color into underfunded, under-equipped institutions that some critics call "apartheid schools."

Distribute copies of "Crossing the Gap" to your students. Give them time to read the story.

Break students into groups of three or four and provide each group with a posterboard, markers and copies of "The Funding Gap." Ask each group to find one of the following items of information for their state: a) the per-student funding gap between the highest-poverty and lowest-poverty school districts b) the funding gap between districts with many students of color and districts with few students of color c) the gap between districts with many ELLs and districts with few ELLs. Ask students to multiply the gap in per-student funding by the number of students in their own class, then create a graphic representation depicting useful educational items that could be purchased with that money.

(In a few states, funding in high-poverty districts actually exceeds funding in low-poverty districts. If you are in one of these states, ask your students to do some research on how your state bucked the trend — and discuss the reasons why a high-poverty district might need more funding.)

After students present their posters to the entire class, each group can discuss and vote on the following proposition:

An explicit right to equal per-student funding should be added to the Illinois Council of Students' Bill of Rights.

Once your students have voted "yes" or "no" to the proposition, ask each group to present their decision, and three reasons supporting it, to the class as a whole.

For a lesson with even greater impact, replace the Education Trust findings with a list of per-student funding levels in each district in your state (you may be able to find these on the website of your state board of education, or you can create one using the "Build a Table" function on the National Center for Education Statistics website. Have your students create a chart illustrating the funding gap between the best-funded and least-funded districts in the state.

Extension Activity: 

Form a partnership with a teacher in another district. You will ask your students to assemble a portfolio documenting the facilities at their school (through lists, narratives or photos); your partner teacher will ask her/his students to do the same. Classes can exchange portfolios. Each class can use the insights from the exchange to draft their own Student Bill of Rights.