How Can We Best Reduce Educational Inequity in Fresno?

OpEd May 7th, FresnoBee

How Can We Best Reduce Educational Inequity in Fresno?

In Fresno County, there are two schools who differ by a whopping 80% for standardized testing in 2019 with regards to English Language Arts (ELA). I had visited one of these schools, Westside Elementary, in 2018, finding a group of enthusiastic and motivated kids with a twinkle of mischief and love in their eyes.

After that meeting, I realized that with more access to everyday educational resources and equity for internet access, they would have more opportunities to realize their potential. As the 2017 National Spelling bee champion, I was determined to try to give back to the community in any way possible. Therefore, I founded an educational initiative, Project Ignite, in collaboration with FCOE to spark a love of learning for those in underserved schools. As a part of the initiative, I enjoyed watching students ask questions and ponder literature as I read exciting books to them.

There are countless reasons for educational inequity. First of all, rural districts receive 50 percent less funding from the federal government compared to urban counties. Appallingly, 41 percent of schools also lack internet access, critical for many aspects of education in these modern times.

This state of affairs is why access to critical resources, like books and technology, is the first step to battling educational inequity. Although we take things like this for granted, it remains inaccessible in rural areas.

Practically, e-books could be a solution to stimulate creativity and a love of language. Kindles with e-books uploaded could be distributed to students to read in school. This approach has been tested at Project Ignite, at Westside Elementary, where 2nd and 3rd graders received kindles. Initially, there was only a weekly bookmobile. At school, it can be easier to have kindles with several books compared to a library. Furthermore, this is scalable since with limited fundraising, kindles with a digital library can easily be obtained for all schools. To account for internet access, the students could take home hotspots if needed to allow them to read as much as possible. Given the high student-teacher ratio in underserved schools, increased access to digital books could compensate for the strained educational system.

On a local level, this inequity is reflected in standardized testing, where only 13% of the students in Fresno County exceed standards for the ELA portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as of 2019. Although ELA testing does test language comprehension, the ideas included in the exams tend to represent traditional white cultural norms. Literature can be a tool to expose students to aspects of life outside of their reach, making it essential that schools must embrace digital libraries. Effectively utilizing the intersection of books and technology can herald a future where literacy is a human right by allowing for increased accessibility to words on a regular basis.

Learning resources can help make up for differences in economic or racial inequity. Currently, segregation by income accompanies segregation by race, and income is the easiest place to start to overcome childhood poverty, then create a level playing field. Having equitable access to books through kindles is the most practical way to start this process since minority students have fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, and computers. With greater access to high-quality curriculum using technology, students can be inspired to achieve their potential.

Equal educational opportunity has numerous facets; however, it is much harder to achieve without access to fundamental resources. Serious investment in digital libraries can propel schools toward an equal playing field. If used well, eventually, school quality may not rely so much on the five digits of a zip code.



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