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March 23, 2012

Education Law Center was honored to be included among the presenters at the Salzburg Global Seminar, "Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide," on December 6-11, 2011. Over 60 education leaders from countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas participated in the seminar.

ELC Executive Director David Sciarra prepared a paper entitled "Toward Fiscal Equity in the United States" and co-authored by Drs. Bruce Baker and Danielle Farrie. The paper is based on the Fair School Funding National Report Card released by ELC in 2010, and was presented at the seminar by Molly Hunter of ELC. An updated National Report Card will be released in April 2012.

The seminar showed that great progress has been made across the world!

Seminar faculty and participants discussed the worldwide status of educational opportunity and social mobility and recent progress in both areas. They also explored the various ways in which education is financed and gained insights from several national and regional examples of the politics and policymaking necessary to close educational gaps. A few brief samples gleaned from this six-day, content-rich event follow.

Access to early childhood education and primary education has seen dramatic improvement, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But continued growth is needed. UNESCO coordinates the Education for All (EFA) partners in their efforts to meet goals set in 2000 that 164 nations pledged to meet, including universal access to free, quality primary education by 2015.

Sixty-seven million children around the world---mostly in rural and remote areas and the majority girls---had no access to education in 2010. That number had decreased from 135 million in 2000, during a period of population growth.

Nations classified as low-wealth increased their investments in education from 2.6% of GDP to 3.5% in only one decade, while their GDP was growing. In Latin America, education spending moved from 2.7% to 4.9% of GDP in the last 20 years.

In Shandong Province in eastern China, rural teachers' salaries jumped six-fold to reach parity with urban teachers' salaries, phased in over a 10-year period. Shandong also invested in new buildings and technology for its rural schools and in professional development for teachers, and now assigns more well-prepared teachers to rural schools. (Shandong Province's population is about 100 million, about 2 ½ times the population of California.)

In Chile, 70% of those entering college are the first in their family to do so. But, large inequities remain for low-income children.

Ghana devotes the largest share of its national budget to education at 29%, which is 5.5% of its GDP. After years of improving access, Ghana has a teacher shortage and faces a new challenge, providing more high schools for the many students coming to that point in their education. Ghana recently moved from the status of "developing" nation to that of "middle-income" nation.

Despite progress, stubborn problems remain.

For example, Roma (gypsy) children in Europe are often segregated or excluded, even though the European Commission required governments to plan for Roma integration. Parallels were drawn with the U.S., in this regard: segregated, predominantly Roma schools are inequitable; they have lower quality teaching, less funding, and lack other educational resources, not unlike American schools with large numbers of low-income students.

Seminar faculty warned that it's difficult to generalize across regions of the world and that context matters. For example, Latin America consists of a well-to-do group of nations, such as Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica; a middle group, such as Mexico and Columbia; and a low-wealth group, including most of Central America, Bolivia, and Peru. Educational opportunities and attainment and the countries' capacities to improve both vary markedly among these groups.

Similarly, an experienced Asian education expert pointed to great progress in access to education in Mongolia and Cambodia, but major inequities remain. In the poorer parts of Asia, high child mortality rates and malnutrition are huge challenges.

In much of the more developed world, income inequality is on the rise. If these countries are to realize the social cohesion and economic benefits of better education, seminar faculty advised that they must improve opportunity for their lower income students. Denmark and Finland are leading the way.

Chaired by Michael Nettles, Senior Vice President at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the seminar's distinguished faculty included:

The Honorable Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Minister of Education, Ghana; Mariana Aylwin and Josef Ritzen, former Ministers of Education in Chile and The Netherlands, respectively; and, Zhang Zhiyong, Deputy Director of Education, Shandong Province. Aylwin is now Executive Director, Corporación Educacional Aprender, and Ritzen is a professor at Maastricht University at MERIT, among other positions.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, shared the compelling story of her childhood and her life's work promoting civil rights and improving the life chances of disadvantaged children.

Other advocates among the faculty were Costel Bercus, Chair, Roma Education Fund, and Junko Miyahara, Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood.

Several acclaimed researchers shared insights that are essential for closing educational equity and social mobility gaps moving forward, including: Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Harvard University; Dylan William, University of London; Teresa Bracho, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Chile; Yusuf Fayed, University of Sussex; Birger Fredriksen, the World Bank; Nicolas Burnett, Results for Development Institute; Wang Rong, Peking University; and Cristián Cox, Catholic University of Chile.

Additional faculty included Maureen McLaughlin, Director, International Affairs Office, US Department of Education; Mee Foong Lee, Executive Secretary, European Access Network; Catherine Millett, Senior Research Scientist, ETS; and Molly Hunter, Director of Education Justice at ELC.

The seminar was planned and conducted in partnership with ETS, and supported by the DeVry Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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