01 May 2001 Everyone Deserves Equal Access to a Quality Education, by Akbar Shabazz
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
It’s a delicate time to be a student in one of our government’s schools.
At a time when technology is advancing rapidly and information is king, our schools are failing. At a time when African-American youth should be taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to them by the hard-fought struggles and painful sacrifices of generations past, more than 60% of our fourth graders cannot read. At a time when our educational system needs an overdue facelift, we have leaders who fight to maintain the status quo.
This is a dangerous time in the African-American community. It is a dangerous time in our country.
We haven’t done a good job in ensuring that our children have a quality education. If we don’t do something quickly, we will reap the consequences of these actions. Our educational system is in shambles. It has been for a long time. We must fix this antiquated machine. We have to do so in order to ensure that our children will be able to enjoy the freedoms that this country has provided for scores of years.
Our President has a plan. It’s called school choice, and it offers students equal opportunity to get a decent education.
Under this plan, no longer will a student be trapped in a failing school. If the school is not performing, then the child and his parents have options. If the teachers aren’t teaching, then they will watch their classrooms shrink in size as students have the choice to move elsewhere. High standards and accountability will be the norm. Failing institutions and their inefficient instructors will be phased out and sent to the educational graveyard if they cannot improve.
Government schools that teach the majority of our children must have competent teachers with increased resources. The problem now is convincing our lawmakers, who all say they are in favor of better schools, to support the plan. This is a hot topic, and a lighting rod for hostile discussions.
You see, the teachers unions – whose power is rising very rapidly – don’t support the plan. They say we should just give them more money, and they’ll take care of all of the problems. Never mind the fact that they are the current guardians of this decrepit system. They are the creators of “constructivist math” and other hair brained ideas. They are the enforcers of “social promotion,” where all children have to do is get a year older and they qualify to advance to the next grade level. They confirmed, in their own internal audits, that they cannot find $150 million of our tax dollars given to them over the past four years.
Our President is now proposing an additional $2 billion for education, and they want to be the guardians of that also… with no strings attached.
Opponents say some children will be left behind. With that, I concur. Although the plan should help most students, it won’t be a cure-all. For students who cannot use the grant to supplement other tuition monies for a private school, they can use the funds to provide transportation to a working public school. The people who will be left behind either don’t have the desire to leave or they can’t find another school close enough to attend. But we should help the people we can help, and save the children we can save.
As a product of a functioning government school, I understand the necessity of a quality fundamental education. But we shouldn’t be held hostage by the teachers unions and the lawmakers without the spinal stability to oppose them. If the school isn’t producing and the instructors are no more than glorified babysitters, then the choice should be obvious.
The limousine liberals who dwell in and around the Beltway, Los Angeles and New York wouldn’t dare to send their children to a failing public school. But they would jump at the occasion to send yours.
We are creating the future leaders of our country – but what type of leaders are we creating right now?
(Edmund Peterson is the chairman of the national advisory council of the African-American leadership network Project 21. He can be reached at [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.