Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanWhat the next Education secretary must do How Democrats learned to stop worrying and love teachers Obama Education Secretary: US education system is 'top 10 in nothing' MORE and other education leaders have said that education is the most important American civil rights issue of the 21st century, and I have to agree. Fifty-five 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. Students of color largely attend high schools that are under-resourced and are four times more likely than their white counterparts to attend dropout factories — schools where less than 60 percent of ninth graders are enrolled as twelfth graders four years later. As a consequence of persistent inequity and segregation in our schools, it is clear that we have two different education systems in this country.

On one hand, we have a system that emphasizes high academic quality and serves the nation’s privileged students. Yet another system exists that emphasizes academic mediocrity and largely serves low-income students and students of color. The only consistency in our education system can be found in our high schools — they fail to provide students of color and youth from low-income neighborhoods with the high-quality education they need to succeed in college and in the modern workplace.

Today, the House Education and Labor Committee sent an important message to the education community by holding a special hearing focused on the unique needs of our nation’s high schools. “America’s Competitiveness through High School Reform” marked a promising shift in the federal approach to education reform and one that I hope will carry through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

With reauthorization of ESEA, Congress has an opportunity to ensure better support for high schools and strong accountability for improving results for high school students. I am optimistic that members of the committee left today’s hearing with a better understanding of the opportunities that lie ahead, but it is critical that they also understand the urgency of the situation before us.

Our future business and political leaders can’t wait any longer for a high-quality high school education. With federal and community support, it is time to redesign the American high school. Waiting any longer would be no different than shutting the door on thousands of American high school students and their dreams of a successful future.