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A Hard Look at Education

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This week, I became a more active tweeter (@CoryBooker)! I was encouraged by the dialogue that came from one of my tweets regarding education reform. There is no doubt that America faces severe educational challenges.

We are a nation that proclaims unalienable rights and "that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These are not some ethereal principles -- they are tangible and worthy ideals for which to struggle. Our children call to us daily from schools across the nation that we are "one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all." Justice, liberty, life, happiness -- critical to all of these ideals are wide universally accessible avenues for our youth to obtain a high quality education.

Few can argue with this and few would argue that the long-term success of our nation, in an increasingly competitive global knowledge-based economy, relies squarely on what is happening in American classrooms every day. In the United States, a highly educated populace would result in a GDP trillions of dollars higher than our present GDP -- more jobs and more opportunities for so many Americans.

As other nations continue to outpace us in K-12 education, our country must seriously grapple with the consequences of lack of progress in school improvement. Further, American demographic shifts should sober all of us as to the work that must be done in America. Every year, minorities comprise a greater percentage of our total workforce, yet the racial achievement gap (and socioeconomic achievement gap) in American education remains unacceptably large. We cannot be two nations -- one with access to high quality schools and another with failing schools and limited options.

There is, however, tremendous hope in America for change. David Brooks' opinion piece in last Thursday's New York Times clearly articulates the potential of education reform. Schools in Harlem, Newark and numerous other cities are succeeding in replicating models that are erasing the education gap evident along both racial and socioeconomic lines. In fact, the highest performing public school in all of Essex County, New Jersey -- a county that has both pockets of poverty and great affluence -- is a Newark charter school with a student population that is nearly entirely minority and with a significant percentage near or below the poverty line.

In America now, I can confidently say that it is no longer a question of CAN we educate all of our children at equal and high levels -- it is a question of WILL we.

This is not a philosophical debate. I have no loyalty to charter schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools, small school models, publicly funded scholarships (vouchers) or private schools. I have loyalty to results. The important question should not be one of philosophy or political perspective, it should be: What is working to empower poor and minority children to have the same educational opportunities in America as those who are more affluent? We should embrace those successful school models, learn from them, infuse that understanding into all of our reform efforts and no longer tolerate any institution that fails to live up to our common community standards of excellence.

In Newark, there are many models of success and we are aggressively working to replicate and expand them. Last year, Newark was selected as one of three cities for a huge investment in our charter schools. The goal is to make our entire charter school sector in Newark high quality in accordance with the highest and most uncompromising standards and outcomes and work to expand those schools so more Newark youth can have high quality choice.

We have recently begun a small school initiative for our high school students who are at risk of dropping out. Further, among other things, our new superintendent is looking to expand our magnet schools of excellence which have long waiting lists and completely reorganize our persistently failing schools.

Here in Newark, there is much work to do and we face many challenges. As Mayor of this great city, I want everyone to understand that, beyond continuing the dramatic reduction in violent crime, the fight to realize our educational dreams for our children is the most important work of Newark.

More than this, the most important work in our nation is the fight in cities all across America to establish a United States education system of the highest standards and achievement to finally secure our nation's ambitions. K-12 education is the front line of the fight for the American dream -- our elected officials, policy makers, educators, administrators, parents and students are engaged in the last great struggle to help our nation achieve herself - we all must join in this struggle for the outcome of this fight will determine our common destiny. If we fail, America fails.

Let us take up the cause of America again, like those who signed our original declaration, and the many more unnamed heroes who bled to push, pull, drag and lift our nation closer to its sacred ideals. Let us all take up the cause of educational justice -- it is the cause of American justice.

As our Declaration of Independence concludes, "With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."