Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Curry Report - Guest Commentary

True Education Reform
By George E. Curry

This country likes to celebrate anniversaries. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. This weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park’s decision not to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala. What many people don’t realize is that there were two major Brown decisions in the mid-1950s. The landmark ruling outlawing “separate but equal” schools was handed down in 1954. A companion ruling was issued in 1955 calling for schools to be desegregated “with all deliberate speed,” which essentially meant no speed at all.

Perhaps it is fitting, given this propensity for celebrating the past, that this week – 50 years after the second Brown ruling – that the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University has issued a report titled, “With All Deliberate Speed: Achievement, Citizenship and Diversity in American Education.” The 44-page report, available online, does more than revisit the 1950s; it outlines a series of steps to improve public education.

After pointing out that the U.S. is undergoing one of the most profound demographic transitions in history, the report observes: “Unfortunately, the United States continues to have an unequal and two-tiered system of public education. Even as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, our nation’s K- 12 education system remains unequal and increasingly segregated by race and income.” The report says the country has a mixed record on eradicating the last vestiges of its Jim Crow public education system.

“We are a nation ambivalent,” it observes. “We are both for integration and against it. We are for equality, but we are unwilling to create and sustain policies that ensure equal opportunity. We are for academic success for all children, but we allow millions of them to remain isolated in inferior schools.”

We have traditionally shifted too much of the burden to the schools.

“Desegregation failed in some communities because almost the entire burden of integrating our society was placed on our public schools,” the study says. “That was a mistake we cannot afford to repeat.”

“...We, therefore, recommend a fundamental change in the relationship between schools and the community, where both are seen as having a shared responsibility in the education of all children.”

To do its part, the community should take over responsibility for providing the schools’ support services, freeing teachers to concentrate on what they do best – teach. The schools must also change.

“Even today, too many of our schools still are being used as sorting machines –sorting children into those who are college bound, those who will use basic skills and those who will be left behind,” the report said.

In order to do better, the report argues, diversity must be part of the equation long before students enter the first grade.

“If we expect all of our children to go on to college and have diverse learning experiences and then go on to work with people from diverse ethnic, racial, social and economic backgrounds, surely it makes sense to prepare our children for these new experiences as early as possible,” the study says.

“We are losing ground and jobs to other countries – for example, China and India,” the report states. “Our nation’s ability to sustain our long-term economic success increasingly depends on the very children we are not educating now.”

Put another way: Each year, 1.2 million children do not graduate from high school. Of those, 348,427 are African-American and 296,555 are Latino.

At the college level, almost a quarter of first-year students do not stay around for their second year. Figures show that only 31 percent of Latinos compete some college and 48 percent of African- Americans, compared to 62 percent of Whites and 80 percent of Asian Americans.

“According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, by the year 2020, the U.S. will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it will produce,” the report states. “Nowhere is college participation lower than among African-American and Hispanic youth; no where is the potential to meet our nation’s need for college graduates greater.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Push state legislatures to provide essential and quality educational opportunities, regardless of where the child attends public school
  • Make sure all students have access to a high-quality education and the opportunity for diverse learning experiences
  • Provide additional opportunities, including after-school programs, for students to improve academic skills
  • Create greater regional equity
  • Support and stabilize integrated residential communities

Whether we accomplish those goals will impact our national security, our ability to compete globally and field an able military, the report says. That alone should be incentive to take on these tough issues.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and He appears on National Public Radio (NPR) three times a week as part of “News and Notes with Ed Gordon.” To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site,

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Malik said...

Interesting post. I've become more and more convinced over the years that the only way to turn our school systems around is decentralize the bureacracy and make management of schools community based. That doesn't mean abandoning standards, but overall control and responsibility should remain at the grassroots. A school system should be more than an exam machine. One way or another, administrators are going to have to make way for flexibility and innovation. Personally, I think a teacher's role is to supplement and reinforce the education a child gets in the home, and to assist and train parents when required.

As far as segregation in the school system, I think that's mostly a consequence of pervasive residential segregation throughout the nation. When you address the fact that people are unwilling to be neighbors with people who don't look like them, (or at least not more than one or two people who look like them), then I think you'll start to get at the heart of the school segregation issue.

DCS said...

Malik, as I'm sure you know, research supports what you say 100%. Understanding the connection between housing and quality of education is so crucial.

There are many fine researchers in this area. One of the best, in my opinion, is Pedro Noguera of New York University. Pedro's been doing field research since his days at the University of California at Berkeley. Harvard University recruited Pedro from Berkeley. A few years later, he accepted a post at NYU. I highly recommend Noguera's latest book, City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming The Promise of Public Education. To examine his research, check out his articles on education rights. They're online at In Motion Magazine. If you get a chance to hear him speak, go!

When it comes to articulating issues related to educational equity and social justice, I can quickly name three other trailblazers: Ron Ferguson of Harvard University, Theresa Perry of Simmons College, and Jawanza Kunjufu of African American Images.

Malik said...

Awesome link. Thanks, it's a very valuable resource.

DCS said...

Malik, I'm glad you find the site useful.

Jaimie said...

Off subject: I wrote a post about "mean girls" and put a link to your article. Thanks for the inspiration!

Rose said...

Malik I agree with you. DCS you know what I think...this is what I do everyday....

DCS said...

Rose, keep up the fine work. You know that I will continue to support you because my walk in this area has been similar to yours.

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