College debt threatens the hopes and dreams of minority students

Our country is facing a perfect storm of rising college costs, student debt and growing inequality.  While the costs will be significant for an entire generation of students, they will be particularly high for Black and Hispanic graduates struggling to create a more prosperous future.

Here’s why:

The odds of paying off college debt are much tougher for minority graduates, particularly Black men, who face far higher unemployment than their White counterparts. More than 25 percent of Black men younger than 24 with college degrees were unemployed last year, about the same rate as young Black men who were college dropouts.  

Before the recession Black male high school graduates were more likely to be employed than current Black male college grads, according to Andrew Sum, director of the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University.


Want economic growth? Invest in education.

Many challenges our nation is currently facing can be overcome in the long-term by providing a better education and more opportunities for our children. Quality education directly impacts economic growth. We need a successful education infrastructure that creates a strong foundation in order to ensure the future success of our nation. 

We must invest in early childhood education and other successful education programs like distance-learning in Tennessee – a project led by the Niswonger Foundation.  The distance-learning program is creating new opportunities and developing new skills for students in Tennessee that they might not have otherwise been able to receive.
A high-quality education is critical for a child’s future no matter what country they grow up in. While in Afghanistan, one of the most incredible stories I heard was about children asking soldiers for pencils because those who attend school are considered a higher status.  It was an admirable thing to see that the Afghani children are hungry to learn and gain an education.


Building a human infrastructure

Have you ever considered education as a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure? We hear a lot about our decaying roads and bridges and the need to provide money and jobs to make improvements. We pay attention to this because an unsafe bridge or a large pothole is difficult to ignore. While spending money on roads, bridges, and power grids is necessary, it is also critical in 2011 for the United States to re-build our human infrastructure. This is how a stronger economy and society will ultimately emerge.

A strong human infrastructure needs to be based around education. The challenges facing education are much less obvious than a gaping pothole, but just as dangerous to the well-being of our nation. In 2011, we are a nation at risk as a result of policies that perpetuate a system of educational haves and have nots. It is no secret that the number of persons slipping into poverty has increased in the United States. It is also no secret that our country is challenged with high school drop-out rates and high unemployment.

As a nation, we are struggling to educate, motivate, and graduate sufficient numbers of students to meet our current and projected labor force requirements. These problems are complex and do not have simple solutions. However, every indicator that I look at points to education as the only proven path out of poverty and is the leading indicator in achieving social success as well.


Protect children with disabilities from school violence

Landon K., a 6-year-old boy with autism, was in first grade in a Mississippi elementary school when the 300-pound assistant principal picked up an inch-thick paddle and started hitting Landon on the buttocks. His grandmother, Jacquelyn K., told me: “My child just lost it ... he was screaming and hollering ... it just devastated him.”
The fact is that children with disabilities -- including children with autism, children in wheelchairs, and children with learning disorders -- face routine violence in schools at higher rates than their peers. Students with disabilities, only 14 percent of all students nationwide, make up 19 percent of those who suffer corporal punishment. 


Executive action or political grandstanding?

In his annual Back to School Speech on Wednesday, President Obama said that he took an ethics class in the eighth grade, learning about right and wrong. The President admitted ethics was not his favorite subject in school, basketball was. Perhaps the President should have paid more attention in his ethics class instead of on his game. Because while the President has claimed a desire to work with Congress to fix the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, he has in reality tried to circumvent Congress, alleging an inability to reach consensus on a broad plan.

In direct contradiction to what the President has claimed, House and Senate Republicans are the only ones who have actually produced legislative work to fix NCLB. The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan have claimed a desire to work with Congress but have little to show for it. The best they could do was to “borrow” language used by Republicans, calling his recently released waivers plan, a “flexibility” plan.

The President released his waivers plan last week, saying he wants to relieve states from the NCLB requirements for students to be 100 percent proficient in math and reading by 2014, but only if they adopt his requirements in exchange. The euphemistically labeled executive action is actually coercive administrative legislating.


Americans trust their teachers to have strong voice in reform

In the most recent Gallup poll, 82 percent of Americans said they disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Still, in a separate poll a month earlier, 54 percent said they like their own congressperson and would vote to keep him or her in office. Clearly there is a disconnect between what Americans think of our nation broadly and what they think about what’s going on in their little sliver of it.

In my experience meeting parents around the country, the same phenomenon can be seen in education. If you ask most Americans how they feel about education in general, their view is very dim. They’re worried that students in countries like China and Japan are overtaking U.S. students. They worry about lagging test scores and about whether their children will even be prepared for a job, much less college, upon high school graduation.

But if you ask parents how they feel about their own child’s teacher, principal or school, their outlook is much more optimistic. They may have quibbles, but their perspective is certainly not as dark as it is when talking about the U.S. education system in general.


Who are the "DREAMers?"

The Obama administration has decided to drop deportation proceedings for “some” illegal immigrants and give them work visas instead.
That “some” is a big question. They include both illegal immigrants in deportation hearings and those who are known as DREAMers. The numbers range between 200,000 to two million, depending on the advocacy organization doing the spinning. Who are these illegal immigrants dreaming of soon-to-be legalization and work visas, and how many are there really?
There are presently some 300,000 illegal immigrants at some stage in the deportation process. The prosecutorial discretion now being granted would free (supposedly on a case-to-case basis) all but those convicted of the most violent crimes – some estimate 80-90 percent of the total. Hence, over 250,000 of those illegal immigrants would be freed and given work visas.
DREAMers is the term used by the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) president Janet Murguia, for illegal immigrants who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship under the yet-to-be-passed DREAM Act legislation.  They number well over one million.   


We need AAA vision for education

The U.S. economy has a flat tire. Our economy is flagging and our infrastructure is crumbling. One way to get the nation back on the road to prosperity is to articulate a new national vision for education and investment in our public schools.
That’s exactly what nations who haven’t lost their AAA credit rating are doing. And it’s also what the United States is not doing. Instead, our elected officials continue to kick the proverbial can down the road while these countries – such as Canada, Finland and Singapore – swiftly pass us by.
Congress has the opportunity help us catch up through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). But instead of tackling the big issues, members of Congress are again looking for tweaks and ways to maintain the status quo.


Leaving some kids behind

Last summer, before my junior year of high school, I had the privilege of working with “Upward Bound,” a program for low-income DC public high school students on track to graduate. The program has dual objectives: in addition to teaching students the skills needed to excel in higher education, it keeps them safe and off the streets.

I was shocked to realize that my kids (those I was assigned to help) must have been given an indifferent pass throughout their secondary education because I had to coach them on aspects of reading, writing and comprehension that should have been mastered well before entering high school. The kids accepted into this program are little different than me in intellect, talent, and drive; however, they are stuck in a system that seems hopelessly inadequate.


Private sector colleges must play a role in America's future

The recent debate and subsequent regulations in Washington singling out private sector colleges and universities have produced an onslaught of media coverage that paints a singular, negative picture of these institutions.

While I agree that there are, in fact, a few schools that have had problems in this sector of higher education - just as public and private not-for-profit schools have had their own issues - the overwhelming majority of private sector schools provide a valid and crucial service to millions of Americans seeking a better education.