Friday, January 21, 2011

Defend the dream: Education is the civil rights issue of our time

The new head of DFER-California, Gloria Romero, with a powerful call to incoming Gov. Jerry Brown to address the civil rights issue of our time (sadly, this appears to be falling on deaf ears, as one of his first moves was to remove some great reformers from the state board of education):

For every 100 African American ninth-graders in California, only 65 graduate; only 25 graduate with the required college prep course work; only 21 enroll in a community college; only nine in a California State University; and only five in a University of California campus. But 40 percent of those on death row in our state are African American.

Children across the state stand in classrooms each morning and recite the pledge, which affirms our commitment to equality and justice for all. Yet statistics continue to reveal that California's is one of the nation's most racially segregated public school systems.

…A bold "parent trigger" was enacted. Students and parents were given greater choice in public education, with "districts of choice" options and open enrollment opportunities for kids trapped in chronically failing schools. A firewall that stunted the use of teacher performance linked to student outcomes was abolished.

Defending and expanding these education reforms is part of realizing King's dream.

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to ask the public to contribute billions of dollars in new taxes this spring, he should commit to linking new and much needed funding to overhaul educator evaluation systems, tenure reform, and protections of parent rights to be fully vested with rights on behalf of their children.

Brown can't do it alone. This challenge requires the Democratic Party to stop pretending the dream is intact. Complacency in our party has continually paralyzed real education reform, yet that fact is rarely discussed. Indeed, the "elephant in the room" in California happens to be a donkey – we Democrats. We must summon the courage to break with traditional allies when they block reform but offer us money for our campaign coffers instead.

Fortunately, the tide is beginning to turn. Across the country, Democratic governors are joining with Republicans to say enough is enough. In Chicago, mayoral candidates are calling for strong parent rights to transform schools in spite of union opposition. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are challenging the historic hegemony of teacher union politics. Longtime civil rights activists like California NAACP President Alice Huffman and religious leaders like Eric Lee are standing tall. The times, they are a-changin'.

This King holiday, let's not just say we honor the dream. Let's make it real – and let us start with the most important civil rights issue of our time: education.


Defend the dream: Education is the civil rights issue of our time


By Gloria Romero
Special to The Bee

Published: Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 11A

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