THE BLOG

50 Years After King's Dream -- Time to Wake Up

08/28/2013 11:04 am ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013

As our nation steps back to reflect upon the March on Washington and famous speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we all must challenges ourselves to question our nation's progress.

Fifty years later, how has our nation progressed? How have we evolved? How have we improved?

Dr. King's speech helped create momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which legally solidified the equality of African Americans in this country. All week, various events and activities are planned, including an anniversary march on August 28.

Like the 1963 march, the focus of the planned commemorative activities are jobs and justice. But what about education?

Education is the civil rights issue of our time -- it is the ultimate indicator of a child's outcome and the great equalizer in our society. High school diplomas are worth more than $1.2 million per lifetime in wages, while a college degree is worth $2.1 million per lifetime.

But we also know that today not all Americans have equal access to a high quality education and that many of our traditional public schools just don't measure up. Not only are we increasingly noncompetitive with other nations because of our K-12 education shortfalls, the achievement gap between children of color and their white counterparts has flat lined and, in some instances, even grown.

Ironically, also this week, it was announced that only a quarter of the high school kids who take the ACT college admissions test actually pass the test. And just half of our high school graduates take that test.

In the face of this reality, we still have educators and media types who amazingly suggest that our schools are doing well or politics is driving education reform.

What's worse is that some civil rights leaders, like the national NAACP, continue to fight against education reform initiatives designed to help kids of color.

It is time for all of us, particularly the civil rights leadership in this country, to wake up and join the last civil rights struggle in America: the fight for equal schooling. That leadership community should be challenging the status quo for failing to serve the needs of kids instead of blindly defending schools that don't work. To that end, today's civil rights leaders can learn from Dr. King, who, just weeks before his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, challenged his fellow clergy for being silent on the issue of civil rights in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Wouldn't it be refreshing and authentic if the NAACP demanded to the teachers union that it relax tenure rules to allow the very best teachers to work in the lowest performing urban schools? Or, if they finally began to embrace educational choice. Charter schools, private schools, virtual schools and home school families are part of the solution and the natural extension of Dr. King's dream includes helping kids today while we build a school system that works for tomorrow.

At a minimum, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington should be a time not just for recognition, but also for a renewed focus. An open, honest discussion on education in America should be part of that focus.