Fifty-five years ago, the nation’s schools were integrated in an unprecedented move to bridge the racial and social divide permeating throughout the country. A landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education forever transformed our school system, means of living and society at large. But 55 years later, students of color continue to lag behind their White counterparts, and our educational system is just as fragmented as it was in 1954. When African American and Latino students are three years behind others by the fourth grade, and the African American male high school dropout rate is nearly 55%, it’s time to take bold action.
This past Saturday, May 17th, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich and I put aside all partisan divides and kicked off our five-city tour to revamp education and educational equality in the country. We began the first leg of this tour right in front of the White House as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, representatives from the NAACP, folks from the Leadership on Civil Rights and many others with a broad range of ideas addressed a crowd of hundreds. Some advocated for vouchers; others were openly anti-vouchers. Many united around my push for parental controlled schools; still others chanted for Mayoral controlled schools. But despite our sometimes-conflicting opinions, everyone at Saturday’s rally unanimously agreed upon the underlying urgency of resolving our educational crisis now.
Concerned parents, teachers and students from around the country joined us in Washington on Saturday as we collectively chanted for justice and solutions. White, Black, Brown, Yellow and everything in between assembled with us, held banners and demanded that we close the education gap immediately. As Arne Duncan highlighted, when there is an alarming dropout rate of 66% in a city like Detroit, we are in a full-blown crisis. Without a proper education, opportunities for our children are greatly diminished, as is our place in the world. How can the United States compete on a global scale when its youth does not receive the adequate tools to achieve in life? How can we as a nation sit back and continue to allow our educational system to fail?
On May 7, I met with President Obama, along with Newt Gingrich and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NY, as we addressed this most urgent civil rights issue. The President is fully invested in resolving our national education crisis and wasted no time in assigning Arne Duncan to join us on this most urgent task. Washington, D.C. however, was just the beginning.
We will continue to channel our message to everyone around the country as we take this endeavor on the road. We may have varying viewpoints on funding or the means to resolving this emergency, but the focus must remain on finding a viable resolution. During these tough economic times, a proper education is more vital than ever. When there are no factory jobs available and corporations go bankrupt, where can kids go to get work? Unfortunately, the end result is either the streets, jail or the cemetery. We as a nation cannot allow this injustice to continue, and if we care at all about the future of our country, then it is truly time to leave no child behind.