Colloquium Confronts Achievement Gap in American Education

At a colloquium hosted by the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review on Thursday, Columbia University Teachers College Professor Michael A. Rebell ’65 introduced his forthcoming article arguing for American children’s constitutional right to “comprehensive educational opportunity,” as the percentage of American children in families who live below the poverty line currently stands at 22 percent, one of the highest in the industrialized world.

In his article, Rebell discusses the challenge of closing the achievement gap in American education. He asserts that children ought to be provided certain services, including pre-natal care, preschool, health care, after-school care, and family support.

Thursday’s panel included Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville, who argued that solving this crisis in education is essential to improve the American economic climate.

“That which we ought to do morally becomes coincidental with that which we need to do economically,” Reville said.

Institute for Educational Leadership President Martin J. Blank emphasized that many sectors—including business, government, and higher education—must work together to provide these comprehensive educational opportunities to students.

“We keep going around in this country looking for simple answers to complex problems,” Blank said.

In addition to the panel discussion, members of the law community posted responses to Rebell’s article on the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Law Review website. Rebell expressed excitement about the interactive aspect of the program and said he was impressed that the commentators had to provide a 500 to 1,500 word essay as opposed to a brief comment about his work.

The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Law Review also used live-blogging to involve those who could not attend the event. Alex S. Trepp, a second year Harvard Law School student, blogged throughout the entirety of the event.

“This is not only a platform to increase the profile of the event, but to engage in conversation,” Trepp said.

Lauren M. Weinstein, a third-year student at the Law School and editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Law Review, played a leading role in organizing the event. She said that the event would give Rebell an opportunity to present his argument and also to open conversation about challenges facing education in the U.S.

“Today is about moving the conversation forward,” she said.

Elayna M. Hecker-Thompson, a third-year Law School student and an editor of Rebell’s article, said she was happy with attendance at the event. She said she was especially glad that attendees came from a variety of Harvard schools, as the solution to closing the achievement gap in education will have to be a multi-disciplinary effort.

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