November 30th, 2005 08:38 EST
True Education Reform
This country likes to celebrate anniversaries. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. This weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park’s decision not to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala. What many people don’t realize is that there were two major Brown decisions in the mid-1950s. The landmark ruling outlawing “separate but equal” schools was handed down in 1954. A companion ruling was issued in 1955 calling for schools to be desegregated “with all deliberate speed,” which essentially meant no speed at all.
Perhaps it is fitting, given this propensity for celebrating the past, that this week – 50 years after the second Brown ruling – that the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University has issued a report titled, “With All Deliberate Speed: Achievement, Citizenship and Diversity in American Education.” The 44-page report, available online, does more than revisit the 1950s; it outlines a series of steps to improve public education.
After pointing out that the U.S. is undergoing one of the most profound demographic transitions in history, the report observes: “Unfortunately, the United States continues to have an unequal and two-tiered system of public education. Even as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, our nation’s K- 12 education system remains unequal and increasingly segregated by race and income.”
The report says the country has a mixed record on eradicating the last vestiges of its Jim Crow public education system.
“We are a nation ambivalent,” it observes. “We are both for integration and against it. We are for equality, but we are unwilling to create and sustain policies that ensure equal opportunity. We are for academic success for all children, but we allow millions of them to remain isolated in inferior schools.”
We have traditionally shifted too much of the burden to the schools. “Desegregation failed in some communities because almost the entire burden of integrating our society was placed on our public schools,” the study says. “That was a mistake we cannot afford to repeat.”
“...We, therefore, recommend a fundamental change in the relationship between schools and the community, where both are seen as having a shared responsibility in the education of all children.”
To do its part, the community should take over responsibility for providing the schools’ support services, freeing teachers to concentrate on what they do best – teach.
The schools must also change.
“Even today, too many of our schools still are being used as sorting machines –sorting children into those who are college bound, those who will use basic skills and those who will be left behind,” the report said.
In order to do better, the report argues, diversity must be part of the equation long before students enter the first grade.
“If we expect all of our children to go on to college and have diverse learning experiences and then go on to work with people from diverse ethnic, racial, social and economic backgrounds, surely it makes sense to prepare our children for these new experiences as early as possible,” the study says.
“We are losing ground and jobs to other countries – for example, China and India,” the report states. “Our nation’s ability to sustain our long-term economic success increasingly depends on the very children we are not educating now.”
Put another way: Each year, 1.2 million children do not graduate from high school. Of those, 348,427 are African-American and 296,555 are Latino.
At the college level, almost a quarter of first-year students do not stay around for their second year.
Figures show that only 31 percent of Latinos compete some college and 48 percent of African- Americans, compared to 62 percent of Whites and 80 percent of Asian Americans.
“According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, by the year 2020, the U.S. will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it will produce,” the report states. “Nowhere is college participation lower than among African-American and Hispanic youth; no where is the potential to meet our nation’s need for college graduates greater.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
- Push state legislatures to provide essential and quality educational opportunities, regardless of where the child attends public school;
- Make sure all students have access to a high-quality education and the opportunity for diverse learning experiences;
- Provide additional opportunities, including after-school programs, for students to improve academic skills;
- Create greater regional equity and - Support and stabilize integrated residential communities.
Whether we accomplish those goals will impact our national security, our ability to compete globally and field an able military, the report says. That alone should be incentive to take on these tough issues.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. He appears on National Public Radio (NPR) three times a week as part of “News and Notes with Ed Gordon.” To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.