We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers.
President Barack Obama
Election victory speech
November 7, 2012
In his victory speech Tuesday night President Obama reached out to the country to help him make the next four years a time of renewal and reaffirmation. There is no better place to launch such a shared mission than a complete, uncompromising, and unequivocal commitment to transforming our urban public schools into 21st century oases of learning and opportunity.
Equality of educational opportunity is the civil rights issue of our era. Allowing over a million students a year to drop out of high school before graduation is a sign of bad faith, straining the social contract to a near breaking point.
We have strong evidence that we can fix urban schools. Recently, the Council of Great City Schools and Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation released a study called Foundations for Success that clearly identifies effective improvement strategies used in innovative urban districts. These include a focus on student achievement, accountability systems, allocating additional resources to the lowest performing schools, district wide curricula, meaningful professional development, data-driven decision-making and intense instruction in reading and math.
Additional success strategies include providing educational options, aligning curricula with Common Core State Standards, providing programs that prepare students for college and career and above all selecting, supporting and retaining a cadre of highly motivated and prepared teachers.
We have a strong institutional base from which to launch what might be thought of as a civilian Marshall Plan for urban education. The US Department of Education has already invested significant resources in innovative ideas such as the Turnaround Program and the Promise Neighborhoods program. Well-designed and managed charter schools such as Green Dot High Schools and KIPP Academies are offering students educational opportunity and excitement. Non-profits such as the National Urban Alliance have developed professional development programs that have proven effective in increasing student learning and raising scores.
Philanthropies such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation* have invested millions in improving urban education and are poised to invest more. Teach for America has shown that there is a deep pool of young idealists willing to commit themselves to educational excellence and justice. Technological innovations are having an educational multiplier effect while reducing costs. Moreover, we have models that work such as Banneker High School right in the President’s backyard in Washington DC. Experimentation is bubbling up in places like New York, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Saint Paul, and Albuquerque.
These successes tell us we need not despair, but we do need to organize. We need a creative collective that brings together the major positive players – to succeed, the organizational, intellectual and financial resources of the country will have to be mobilized. It’s time to build a community of cooperation in support of equality of educational opportunity. This can be accomplished in several ways including a Presidential Task Force that includes all the stakeholders.
Now is the time to seize the creative moment and demonstrate the political will to fix a problem that damages millions of children and young people every day, every year.
* Disclosure: The Gates, Hewlett, and Broad Foundations have all funded (or currently fund) Education Sector work.
Photo Credit: EPA/BGNES