New Ed Policy book highlights a regional equity approach to tackling urban educational inequality

Striving in Common book coverMany of the inequities entrenched in the U.S. educational system are caused by broader disparities across a region, education policy experts argue in their latest book.  Striving in Common: A Regional Equity Framework for Urban Schools fills a critical void by looking more closely at the racial and economic inequities contributing to the deepening segregation and inequality in schools across the United States.

Kara Finnigan, professor of education policy at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, and Jennifer Jellison Holme, associate professor of education policy in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, have coauthored the six-chapter volume to tackle issues of urban inequality head on by connecting them to larger underlying issues of regional disparities that continue to contribute to the many challenges facing urban schools today.
Striving in Common (released in October by Harvard Education Press) comes at a time when educational inequality remains a substantial issue in K-12 schools, particularly urban schools.  Those consequences continue to dramatically impact achievement for students across the system.
In the past, the tendency has been to blame schools for some of these problems, such as labelling them as “failing” and requiring them to address their low performance or high dropout rates, without taking into account historical trends inside and outside of education.  The book’s coauthors hope to change that trend, which has relied too heavily on short-term, so-called ‘Band-Aid’ solutions.  Finnigan and Holme are urging education policymakers to take a regional equity approach to addressing these underlying inequities in the educational system.
“Blaming students, teachers, and schools in urban areas is a misdiagnosis of the problem,” Finnigan says.  “We need to rethink this in a regional context and use a multi-prong approach that tackles the root causes of school failure by dealing with patterns of racial and economic segregation.  We’ve exacerbated patterns through high-stakes accountability instead of tackling the deeper underlying causes of regional inequity, in essence worsening the conditions of schools and ultimately hurting our students.”
Finnigan and Holme’s research around issues of school integration extends over the course of many years, in which they have examined policies that allow students to cross school district boundaries to better understand the extent to which interdistrict collaboratives address inequality and isolation in education.  Their book is based upon this culminating research, which was made possible by a Ford Foundation grant
Striving in Common aims to bridge two disparate, yet interconnected, conversations in education policy and in urban affairs.  The book’s title encapsulates the coauthors’ argument about the need to flip the educational system’s current competitive structure toward more collaborative, regional, and cross-sector arrangements.  By tracing the policy decisions that have fostered competition for scarce sources between six select cities and surrounding suburbs, as well as patterns of segregation by race and income, they highlight the limited ability of technical education reforms and interdistrict collaboratives to address the resulting educational inequalities without attention to broader system-wide issues in a metropolitan area.
The book sets forth an ambitious agenda for rethinking the parameters of education policy and connecting education reform to broader urban reform to address problems of inequality more broadly, such as poverty, housing segregation, economic development, unequal school spending, transportation, public health, and access to jobs, to name a few.  Holme and Finnigan draw on examples from a range of cities, including: St. Louis, Missouri; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Palo Alto, California; Rochester, New York; Omaha, Nebraska, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Segregation undergirds all of what they have observed in these six regions.  While the Omaha case forms the basis for a lot of their thinking around integration programs, each chapter features a separate case study dealing with desegregation and inequality in education.  The book summarizes research findings conducted by Finnigan, Holme and their research team of graduate students in each of these cities and features maps and quotes to support various points made by the coauthors throughout the book.
The coauthors outline a regional framework to address inequality and help students and families access better opportunities.  Their proposed regional framework consists of a combination of political strategies, including: tax-base sharing and resource distribution, in-place investment policies funded by regional resources, mobility policies, regional governance, and cross-sector approaches in which education policy is pursued in tandem with housing, transit, health, and economic development policy changes.  A central aspect of this book is a focus throughout on the political opportunities and challenges of regional equity.  The book features key areas of action—including building coalitions, leveraging the work of policy entrepreneurs, redefining the problem, developing a common vision—and the importance of interest convergence and a focus on the impact of structural racism on policy decisions.
Jeannie Oakes, senior fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, and presidential professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles, gave Striving in Common a positive review, stating, “If you read only one book about educational inequality, make it this one!  With solid theory, strong evidence, and compelling examples, Holme and Finnigan decimate conventional narratives blaming schools and expecting them to remedy problems deeply rooted in the history and structures of regional inequality. Even better, they offer an astute policy framework and political strategies to tackle inequality at its source.”

Kara FinniganFinnigan conducts research on educational policy implementation, racial equity, and urban education. She has written extensively on the topics of low-performing schools and high-stakes accountability, district reform, desegregation, and school choice.  Finnigan’s research blends perspectives in education, sociology, and political science and employs both qualitative and quantitative methods.  Her research also investigates the role of social networks in the diffusion of research evidence at the school and district levels, the impact of principal vacancies on school context, and community engagement and advocacy around educational change.  Finnigan holds a PhD in education policy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, MA in administration and policy analysis from Stanford University, and BA from Dartmouth College.
Striving in Common is available for order on the Harvard Education Press website.
About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers graduate programs in teacher preparation, K-12 school leadership, higher education, education policy, counseling, human development, online teaching and learning, program evaluation, applied behavior analysis, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education also offers PhD programs and an accelerated EdD option that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform. 
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