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Finding Our Way Back to First

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On Thursday Dec. 6, the NAACP held a press conference where it released its comprehensive report on education entitled "Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America's Children." Flanked by astute leaders in the world of education, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and former South Carolina Governor Dick Riley and America's Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell as well as 38 NAACP state education chairs, members of the press, civic organizers and concerned citizens, NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous spoke of education as the great emancipator and stated that education reform is a key component of the organization's new civil rights agenda. The NAACP released its report to essentially set forth a comprehensive road map on how to implement effective education reform across the country that is inclusive of all children. As a backdrop, the press conference and the report put into context our country's educational history, one which has been marred and defined by exclusion where access to quality education was restricted to a few and "separate but equal" was the law of the land. Jealous emphasized that the "country can't lead the world in anything unless we lead the world in education" and that requires "America to create and provide for students who have been left behind the conditions that all students need for success."

America's staggering statistical decline in education is further demonstrated by the conditions on the ground, where whole communities are on the brink of insignificance because of key disparities in access to quality education. To meet these educational challenges, the NAACP has asked its 1,200 active units to advocate for large scale educational reform around four critical areas outlined in its report. Those include pre-K/early childhood education; effective teaching; establishing and expanding educational programs and improving the educational funding system. The Report sets forth a clear and simple goal and that is to "make real for all students the opportunities we have historically offered to just a few." Jealous emphasized that this country is in crisis and that "we must act with a tremendous sense of urgency" because "educational success in this country can no longer be dictated by the zip code where a child lives." Secretary Duncan pointed out, 25 percent that is roughly one million children drop out of high school each year and in African-American and Hispanic communities that number is much higher.

While the areas identified in the report include familiar themes such as early childhood education and quality teachers, the NAACP also emphasized the role of technology in preparing children for the jobs of tomorrow as technological advances are changing the nature of the roles available. Accordingly, we must ensure that we are educating our children on these emerging disciplines. The U.S. is projected to have more than 1.2 million jobs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-related field by 2018. Yet, it is predicted that there will be a significant shortage of qualified college graduates to fill these careers. Mastery in the STEM fields will mean American exceptionalism lives on. Indeed, for the U.S. to succeed and continue to play a leadership role in addressing tough global challenges, we must do a better job of engaging students in these subjects and encouraging them to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.

Clearly, success in STEM disciplines not only requires the preparedness, education and skills necessary to navigate these waters but it is essential that the technological landscape provide the medium for growth and innovation. At a time when we as a nation have collectively conceded that we are lagging behind the world in these key disciplines, we cannot afford to be confronted with undue government and regulatory restrictions on the digital world. These types of restriction will do nothing but hinder our own sustainability and competitiveness in the global world. It is critical that U.S. policymakers show that it is our nation's unequivocal policy to avoid undue regulation of the Internet at all levels of government. And that means the Federal Communications Commission and other regulatory bodies must invest in the technological infrastructure to ensure that the regulatory environment meets the needs of our new technological reality while simultaneously removing old restrictions that suppress technological expansion and innovation.

Out of the shadows of Brown v. Board of Education, which led to the greatest educational reform of our nation's history, the NAACP has again stepped into the ring to take on the formidable foe of education inequality. Education is one of the key civil rights, moral, economic, national security and business issues of our time and as advocated in the report, we must employ a comprehensive inclusive approach to education reform where we provide quality access to all while also providing the strategic training necessary to excel in the technologically savvy and sophisticated job market of the future.