Bail Out America’s High Schools

President Barack Obama and Congress moved quickly to address the nation’s economic crisis through a $789 billion economic stimulus package, which includes much-needed money for public schools. However, the omission of funding specifically geared to high schools, Title III, Title VII, TRIO, GEAR UP and other programs that support students of color and English language learners (ELLs) is significant in its failure to address the pressing civil rights issues that cause American schools to fail these young people.

Here’s what I consider to be a crisis: more than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education outlawed racial discrimination in public schools, 60 percent or fewer students of color graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma. It is critical for Congress to focus on improving educational opportunities for all students now, or we risk long-term economic decline and will be complicit in the creation of a permanent underclass. While stimulus bill provisions that require states to develop and use longitudinal data systems, improve assessments for ELLs and children with disabilities, and encourage standards that prepare students for the expectations of college and work are good steps toward improving education -- much more dramatic improvement in federal support for public education is needed to restore America’s long-term economic viability.

Today’s high school students will soon become the nation’s workforce and contributors to our nation’s economy. But, of incoming ninth graders, two-thirds will not graduate with the skills they need to be successful in college and work. As students of color and ELLs continue to grow as a proportion of the total student population and future workforce, improving their educational outcomes must be a national priority.

The economic viability of our nation demands structural reform to public schools. The 111th Congress can make an impact through reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. New education policies, coupled with funds to support change, can provide students of color and youth from low-income neighborhoods with access to a high-quality education that will prepare them to be the civic and business leaders of our future. Education is a core civil right, but our neighborhood schools don’t deliver. Congress has opened the door and now they, and we, must finish the work begun by those on whose shoulders we stand.

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