• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2010 •
In a recent speech, President Barak Obama reminded us that “in the 21st Century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education” (2010). Achieving the goal of a world-class education requires commitment to protecting the civil rights of every child to access of a quality education through an equitable educational program.
What are the present challenges that keep us from reaching that goal? Our schools lose more than one in three of our young minds (approximately half of Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans) before they can obtain a high school diploma. And we rank 10th in the world among nations that graduate 25- to 34-year-olds from college (Melendez, 2010). This is of utmost concern for all of us who love this country and are seeking ways to eliminate the global achievement gap and regain our leadership status in education that rightfully belongs to the longest living democracy in the world.
Civil rights are defined as “the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment (and to be free from unfair treatment or discrimination) in a number of settings – including education, employment, housing, and more – based on certain legally-protected characteristics” (Thomson Reuters, nd).
That every child has the civil right to a quality education has its roots in statements made by the shapers of this country who had the vision of education as the link to human progress and international leadership. Thomas Jefferson once noted, “If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it” (1818).
This article attempts to share some thoughts on how we as a nation need to step back and reflect on ways to ensure that every child has a quality education and how we can again become the model for a world-class education.
First, our national conscience must reflect a genuine desire for inclusivity, unity and a purposeful mentality and desire to create a nation where “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (U.S. Congress, 1776).
The creation of alternatives to public schooling to address academic failures as well as integration, the rise of segregation, and the conscious inequity in staffing where only a select few of our schools have the best prepared teachers and administrators, are disconcerting and clear indications that we are not there yet.
The path to achieving this national conscience is a major task that requires intentionality, commitment and immediate action. Policymakers, university faculty, community members, and school administrators and teachers must collaborate to constitute the legions who will carry the banner for equity and create the momentum needed for change.
As noted by then presidential candidate Obama, “It’s time to turn the page on education – to move past the slow decay of indifference that says some schools can’t be fixed, that some kids just can’t learn” (2007). This renaissance will undoubtedly filter across all sectors to citizens in this country.
Second, we will accomplish the goal when we value and attend to the potential of each young mind that steps into our schools, regardless of color, religion, ethnicity, disability or gender. The literature show that reaching the goal of overall improved academic achievement that will propel this country to become second to none in educational achievement the goal requires: (1) a conscientious effort to improve the quality and rigor of the overall curriculum, and (2) creation of opportunities for a fast-growing minority student population to excel and close the achievement gap that currently exists.
We have the resources to improve the quality and rigor of the overall curriculum, therefore this is a matter of the will to do so. Current unsuccessful efforts to address the second requirement lack the heart and the passion to ensure that our traditionally neglected students excel. Neglect of this second requirement will block our country from reaching and modeling educational excellence for the world.
School districts must focus on the quality of education their students are getting, rather than focusing on finding ways of making their campuses rate high on state assessments. There is only one way of making any campus truly exemplary, and that is to provide each student in the campus with a quality education.
Tragically, some principals blame students or try to find ways to ensure that certain students are not placed at their campuses because of a fear that including these students will lead to a low campus rating. When this happens, we have lost focus of our role as described in a state’s code of ethics and teacher performance standards that govern state licensing requirements.
Perhaps, the day has arrived when we, educators should sign an oath, similar to a physicians’ Hippocratic Oath, to do no harm to children but rather to protect and promote quality education.
Third, commit – as a national imperative rather than a political necessity – to provide each young mind an equitable and world-class education. Today’s efforts to improve education for all young people continue to be governed by the political reality of the day and to be jeopardized by partisan politics. When this happens, our leadership in education internally and externally is compromised, and it manifests negatively in the quality of education that we provide in our schools.
Maintaining knowledge superiority must be a national imperative, just like military superiority is vital to maintaining and ensuring the security of our democratic ideals. Superiority in educational outcomes cannot be achieved when education is in a constant state of flux and large segments of our population do not have access to a quality educational program.
Fourth, review and eliminate all education-related policies that create environments of inequality, inequity and achievement gaps. Today is a defining moment in education; it is time to review all policies that have a negative impact in making quality education more accessible to all students in this country. The key policy areas that need to be reviewed include: student assessment, curriculum offerings and accessibility to all students, educator preparation programs, quality instruction, access to higher education, graduation programs and accountability programs.
The concern for greater accessibility of quality education for all is a national imperative and must be addressed immediately. These thoughts on how to address this national imperative are barely scratching the surface, but they represent four major initiatives that can get us on the right path to achieving and maintaining a second to none role in the world.
Jefferson, T. Thomas Jefferson to M.A. Julien, 1818. Favorite Jefferson Quotes, web page
Melendez, T. Remarks of Dr. Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana to the National Association for Bilingual Education in Denver (February 3, 2010).
Obama, B. Remarks at the Take Back America 2007 Conference in Washington, D.C. June 19, 2007).
Obama, B. Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address, January 27, 2010.
Thomson Reuters. “What are Civil Rights?,” FindLaw, web site.
U.S. Congress. U.S. Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).
Abelardo Villarreal, PhD., is the director of Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]