Americans made history in 2009. On January 20, we inaugurated the first African-American to the highest office in the land; Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and leader of the free world. This momentous milestone comes more than a century after Abraham Lincoln preserved a divided nation and unshackled the chains of slavery for hundreds of thousands of African-American men, women and children.
Yet, even after nearly 150 years, millions of poor minority children, predominantly African-American students, remain trapped in schools that are failing to provide the knowledge and skills that will raise them out of the cruel cycle of poverty. With each passing year, their hope for a brighter future grows dimmer and their ability to live a life of self-sufficiency – free from dependence on government – becomes less likely.
Decade after decade, politicians pledge to improve the quality of public schools, especially in poor urban areas where the challenges are the greatest. Too often, these promises turn to platitudes. Some cave to the pressure of special interests or political correctness. Others offer a myriad of excuses for failure – blaming poverty, funding or society as a whole for the lack of learning in these classrooms.
Then there are those few bold and brave leaders who are successfully challenging the status quo in school districts with large minority student populations. Governor Bobby Jindal and a bipartisan majority in the Louisiana Legislature are providing unprecedented choices to parents and students in New Orleans. New York Mayor Michal Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are grading schools based on student learning. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, DC, are creating a new paradigm to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. These courageous individuals are raising expectations, demanding accountability and fanning the flames of freedom in education.
Closing the achievement gap by providing a quality education to each and every student in our nation is the economic and moral imperative of our time. According to the U.S. Census, a high school dropout earns one-third less than a high school graduate and 250 percent less than a college graduate. The social costs add up too – with higher crime rates and healthcare costs for students who are deprived a quality education.