It is extremely important for all of us who support parent choice to celebrate School Choice Week. It is particularly important for black people to lend our support to the noble cause that is the reason for School Choice Week.
The effort to ensure that parent choice is a critical part of any discussion about education reform is considered by many people to be a bad idea at best, and heresy at worst. Conventional wisdom considers the call for parent choice a relatively recent development in America’s long education history.
For black people, however, the quest for more parent choice has been our focus for a long time. Coming out of slavery with a strong belief in the value of education, black people were forced to seek out both public and private alternatives in their quest. It was then, and it is now, all about options. The lessons of our history teach us that we cannot, and must not, depend on any one strategy to achieve the goal of educating our young.
Understanding this history addresses directly the contention by some that African-American support for such policies is misguided at best, and the result of being duped by the “right wing” at worst.
Why is our history not well understood? In part it's because many actors in the world of education policy willfully have obscured and distorted it. An honest portrayal complicates their effort to curtail the expansion of educational options for black people.
It is also true that many critics of choice might understand this history and simply have come to a different conclusion about its implications, while others have chosen either to ignore our history or consciously misrepresent it. They thus impede the continuing struggle of African-American people to obtain a quality education for our children.
In America today, 42 percent of black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly. Forty-three percent of African-American students will not graduate high school on time with a regular diploma.
These opponents have placed one obstacle after another in the path of parents who seek the power to choose the best educational environment for their children. While cloaking their arguments in the rhetoric of democracy, equity, and social justice, they are in fact this generation’s power brokers and are unwilling to give black people, particularly low-income and working-class people, the power they need to determine their own destiny.
Time and again, black parents have been in a position where others had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children.
Throughout history, black people have waged a continuing struggle to educate themselves and their children. Time and again, black parents have been in a position where others had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children. While those in power have employed very different means, the net result has left low-income and working-class African-Americans with fewer and less adequate educational options.
The current debate over parent choice is but the latest chapter in that struggle. This debate arises directly from the fact that far too many of our poorest children are not receiving a quality education. In the starkest of terms, their futures are being snuffed out.
A troubling double standard hangs over this debate. Many who can choose quality options for their own children question the idea of empowering less affluent families to do likewise.
My own vision for the future of our struggle remains anchored by the belief that we must give poor parents the power to choose schools—public or private, non-sectarian or religious—where their children will succeed. As our history illustrates, this is not a new idea. Rather, it goes to the very heart of the historical quest by black people to educate themselves and their children.
So, it is an honor to hold high the banner of parent choice during this week of celebration of our cause.