Last week I met with President Barack Obama and I felt it very noteworthy that the President of the United States would agree to meet on an issue of such great importance as the race and economic gap in public education. We had asked for such a meeting after the White House sent Vice President Biden to address our National Action Network national convention on April 3rd in New York City. President Obama wanted people that don’t agree on specific issues but agree that there must be an open fight to close the race and economic gap to participate in the meeting. Also present was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who spoke at NAN’s national convention and supports vouchers while I do not. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a participant in the meeting and he supports mayoral control and is running for re-election and I support neither. But what commonality we all share is our concern that the crisis in education is so significant that there must be alliances across all lines to close the gap. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was invited but due to intense labor negotiations he wasn’t able to make it, however he is a very strong advocate for education and we intend to work with him diligently on this issue in the near future.
We have now all agreed, in fact, to work with a larger working body with United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on how we can concretely address the problems of unequal funding, performance of teachers, pay for teachers, and other issues that will tangibly change the existing gap in education. Closing the education achievement gap is a problem we can solve with strategies that have been proven effective. It starts by putting the needs of children over adults and rethinking old political alliances. We at National Action Network will continue to mobilize and are holding an anniversary rally commemorating Brown v. Board of Education this Saturday, May 16 at the White House Ellipse–the “Close the Gap Rally.”
The facts are grim: Public schools across the nation are actively denying African American and Latino students good teachers and good schools creating an achievement gap that makes education equality the civil rights issue of our time. Barely half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school, with African American students graduating at 55%, Latinos at 53%, and their white counterparts at 78%. White students in the 12th grade are, on average, four years ahead of their African American peers. School funding still reflects community wealth in most states. On average this country spends $1000/student more on affluent students than low-income students. A Black male is more likely to be in prison than to have a post-graduate degree; 1 in 9 Black men between 20-34 are incarcerated.
When our nation elected the first African America President, we managed to do what many thought was impossible. Now, we must stop sending African American and Latino students to failing public schools, and start to do what we know is possible – provide education equality for all children. We can put the building blocks in place today to close the achievement gap and provide good teachers in good schools for every child and restore the civil rights of children to an equal education.Â