October 24, 2021

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The pursuit of equity in education

Sometimes it is difficult not to choose one goal over the other. While our guidelines apply to everyone, we must take into account the diversity of each of the districts we represent. Some have very different needs than others. My philosophy was that all students Everyone our children. Until all students have the same chance of success, we are as an island not successfully.

Myself and my neighbors grew up in an affluent neighborhood that had all the perks: great school buildings, excellent teachers, board members who prioritized students, and parents who looked after their children. We didn’t feel guilty about the benefit of living in a great community. But over time it became clear what advantage we had over others.

As a member of a family that was instrumental in the development of Levittown in the 1950s (my father built what was then the largest mall on Long Island along the Hempstead Turnpike), I did not know that some returning soldiers were excluded from education because of their race were the GI bills and cheap FHA loans. In Levittown in particular, restrictive alliances in William Levitt’s vision of the suburbs forbade blacks from shopping. These government policies denied a generation the ability to build wealth.

As I was a commercial property developer and chaired the Long Island Regional Planning Committee, I became more aware that institutional racism in zoning – which resulted in some of LI’s neediest neighborhoods facing some of our more affluent ones – contributed to educational disparities. . This became clearer when I was turned away by the city overseers and others when I made reasonable requests for affordable housing to them.

I started as regent 17 years ago and joined a board of directors that didn’t always take into account the extent to which this land use policy created some of the most disparate school districts in the nation. Bad decisions made by others, even in good faith, cannot indict those who come later. But these state and societal decisions created today’s educational inequalities. We don’t need to feel guilty today to feel a responsibility to try to resolve the factors that give some children great educational advantages while denying them others.

We all need to realize that those children who face the toughest challenges at home must have all possible advantages in school. These resource differences are huge, including the number of AP courses and opportunities for enrichment, as well as the role models, mentors, and career counselors per student.

When asked to make policy decisions, we have a responsibility to narrow the educational gaps that negatively affect access to opportunities. Unless all children are considered our children, we cannot claim to have achieved excellence or justice.

The Regents’ new policy on diversity, justice and inclusion aims to balance the needs of excellence and justice. We are committed to promoting a culture of inclusion, diversity and mutual respect for all Long Islanders and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. Students should be presented with history that is not necessarily pleasant. The usual history books don’t often reflect unfortunate institutional choices based on race, gender, and disability.

Education and experience gained throughout life helped develop diversity, equality and inclusion policies. Our local districts must implement what the regents propose. All of our students should feel the same sense of ownership. Hopefully educators, parents, and students will respect these guidelines and promote their implementation in their districts.

This guest article reflects the views of Roger Tilles, Long Island representative on the State Board of Regents.