The University Record, January 24, 1994

Equity and excellence: Are they at cross purposes?

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

The question of whether equity and excellence can co-exist in education surfaced repeatedly in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day lecture hosted by the School of Education.

Speaking about “The Roles of Standards and Assessment in Promoting Excellence and Equity,” Donald Stewart, president of the College Board, applauded the U-M for the significant increases in the number of minority faculty and students achieved under the Michigan Mandate. But he noted that the field of education was in a state of great ferment today, from the elementary through the post-secondary level.

“We need to broaden the discussion about school standards,” Stewart said, “to include the mission and ends we hope to achieve. If we believe we can etch some sacred set of standards into stone, once and for all, we are sadly mistaken. It is the process of setting standards that allows us to generate a sustained conversation about equity and excellence.”

Stewart noted that King “pushed each of us to rise above narrow provincial thinking, devoid of breadth, and consider our common goals and the process by which we get there.

“The struggle for equity is the struggle to overcome categorization and isolation,” Stewart said. “Our heroes and sheroes fought the daily inequities by which we isolate ourselves from each other. Yet we still separate ourselves along color lines, in schools and neighborhoods.” The challenge, he concluded, is to level the playing field and set standards that provide opportunities for everyone to learn.