The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

TT66.jpgThe topic of education is one that won’t go away, whether it’s a local media report or the headline story on a major network.  A major reason for this, even if the media doesn’t quite describe it in this context, is that educational opportunity is the civil rights issue of our time. For decades now, those in and around our educational system have tried to shrink the education achievement gap amongst races and socioeconomic classes through a variety of means. However, almost all these efforts have operated solely within the educational sphere. This in itself is a problem, as oftentimes we are reticent to accept the fact that other non-school factors play a significant contributing role in failing to close these gaps.

Research by numerous experts has consistently documented that kids who attend school but are unprepared to learn because of prohibitive economic and social conditions will remain in a vicious cycle of lost opportunity. This is a personal and societal tragedy of the first order. Having our children concentrated in segregated schools, by virtue of attending institutions that lack racial and socioeconomic diversity; result in the perpetuation of this cycle. The potential positive impacts that educational reform can have on transforming these outcomes, will not be fully realized for many students, unless we target the underlying causes that foster these conditions.

This "educational segregation" is an off-shoot of housing, social and economic policies on the federal, state, and local levels that have concentrated poverty in certain communities. Some would like to see these issues as separate items that can be placed in a silo without recognizing that they are interconnected. Housing policy is education policy…as is economic policy…and broader social policy. Each is intrinsically linked to the fortunes of our children. More precisely, they are linked to whether or not our children start off on a level playing field. This intentional and deliberate policy paradigm has been historically perpetuated by both political parties to varying degrees. This has led to a chilling effect on the educational system in our country and our nation’s most precious commodity, its human capital. We must recognize that we have all been complicit in this, and that it is time for us to say, “Enough is enough!”

As an advocate for school reform, I firmly believe that we cannot achieve an educational renaissance solely in the schoolhouse alone. Education has and always will be the great equalizer in our society. It is the foundation for growth and intellectual empowerment that can reset or jump start our lives. It is imperative then that we combine changes in the classroom, with sound ideas that target the underlying systemic issues in the communities we seek to transform.

I sincerely believe that the effort to improve our educational system is a noble one, and positive results offer hope to our future generations.  By combining good ideas in advancing student growth with broader societal changes designed to foster shared prosperity, we can begin to really close the educational achievement gap. This objective is not easy and many competing political forces will try to erect barriers to impede the progress, but the fight for our children is worth it. That's my take. What’s yours?

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