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Here we stand, in the days between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and National School Choice Week. To many, these two events might have little in common. If you scratch the surface, however, they are inextricably linked. In fact, many would agree that school choice is the civil rights issue of our time.
The American dream tells us that any person, through hard work, can become anything in America. We are not guaranteed equal results, but we are supposed to be guaranteed equal chances to succeed. Life isn’t fair, we all know that. Some will achieve more than others. However, the flaws inherent in our educational system put certain groups of children at a disadvantage, and as Americans, we can and should do better.
When education was first considered a civil rights issue, the fight was manifested in Brown vs. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools. However, schools remain segregated today but, this time, it is by geography. Students are assigned to schools based on the location of their home, which segregates children on the basis of wealth. As was decided in Brown vs. Board of Education, separate but equal is not acceptable in America. Yet, every day, children in poor neighborhoods are sent to schools which do not perform as well as those in wealthy areas.
All children should have an equal shot at the American dream, and having parents which live in a less desirable school district puts some children at a distinct disadvantage. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 1700 “dropout factories” (schools in which fewer than 60% of students graduate) existed in 2008. At these schools, the majority of students are black and latino. It is not a leap, then, to say that in almost sixty years since the Brown vs Board of Education ruling, minority students are right back where they started.
America continues to slide in the ranks internationally when it comes to preparing our children for college and the workforce. We can see that failing to address this issues leads to generation after generation of adults who are not prepared for the future, and this will largely be along racial lines. We cannot have some races set up for success and others set up to fail. All American children need to be given equal opportunities to succeed, regardless of race, income level and location.
The viability of the American dream depends on the civil rights battle being fought in the arena of school choice. We need to get ready for battle.