California’s traditional public schools are failing our kids, and every day the Urban League in California deal head-on with the aftermath of that failure. We serve hundreds of thousands of adults and youth who are either in – or have passed through – the crumbling public education system. We cannot tinker at the margins with changes to a broken system. We need change, we need reform, and we need accountability in our public school system – NOW.
A case in point: According to a disturbing October 2009 Northeastern University study on the dire economic and social consequences of high school dropouts, on any given day nearly 23 percent of all young Black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution in America – with dire economic consequences for these young men. In California, 1 in 4 black students fail to graduate from high school. Without a high school diploma, one cannot earn enough money to make ends meet and certainly not enough to reach the American dream of raising a family and buying a home. The mean annual earnings of the nation’s young people with a bachelor’s or advanced degree were $24,797 in 2007, three times higher than the mean earnings for dropouts of $8,358. And this does not even begin to address the hard costs of dealing with incarceration (black males being 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their counterparts who graduate), drug dependency, and social safety net payments, costing California nearly $1.1 billion annually (UCSB, September 2009) . This is a crisis of epic proportions. Lacking real access to a quality education, an entire generation of young people – black, brown, Asian and white – are marginalized at the edges of the economic and social mainstream and are left without a true opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
In spite of all the evidence pushing for swift and decisive action, recent actions by the California Legislature have cast doubt about the willingness of those in power to place the needs of students and the future of this State above immediate, short-term political interests. The gamesmanship around SBX5 1 and ABX5 8 has brought this state to the brink of failure to qualify for federal Race to the Top (RT3) funding. While the funding is important, what is more vital is the opportunity to provide real change and reform to a public education system that has long been broken and has failed miserably to adequately serve those most in need of its services – poor and ethnic students who lack real educational options.
The Urban Leagues in California, with three affiliates in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego and who serve thousands of families daily, are calling for the Governor and legislature to take action on RT3 that provides all students with choice, an ‘exit option’ from poor performing traditional schools, and accountability at all levels of the public education system. Choice is a bedrock principle that will create a drive for innovation and improvement as parents and students ‘vote with their feet’ and find educational options that work for their students; an ‘exit option’ is important because in America, the ability for the people to have a choice and a voice, and to move freely and choose a school that works is simply the right thing to do. Trapping parents and students in a monopoly of ill-performing, inferior educational institutions is simply un-American – isn’t it? The parent trigger is key to empowering parents to participate as a full partner with the schools in the education of their child. And finally, accountability is critical so that we can hold accountable those elements of the system that are underperforming and we can fix the problems that have squandered our most precious resource. In the December 9 hearing, Asemblymember Joan Buchanon made reference to “not wanting to play the ‘blame game’”. I agree, however the game is able to be played because of a lack of accountability – for the teachers, the principals, the educational bureaucracy and the parents. The range of reforms available under RT3 give everyone the opportunity to become empowered and identify their critical role in the education of children, and allow them to live up to it.
For too long, and in too many ways, young people across this state and country have been let down by the education system and by the adults responsible for their care and development. Now is the time to increase the investments we make in young people, enhance the content, opportunities and supports we provide, and empower them to make better choices about both their individual future and the future of our nation.
There is not time to waste. The gamesmanship must end – now. We strongly urge the legislature and the Governor to come together and meet this challenge with the urgency it deserves. Our community cannot afford to delay reform one day longer. The California Urban League’s fully support school choice, the parent trigger and providing accountability in our byzantine educational system. We do not care how or by what bill number it’s called. What we want is an educational system that works for all students.
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