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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Education Reform Without Addressing the Race Gap Is Education Deform

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It's been 60 years since the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision, which unanimously held that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Over half a century has passed since that historic ruling, and yet the disparity within our educational system remains outrageously high. black and Latino students disproportionately attend schools with inadequate teachers, textbooks and funding. And as a newly released Department of Education report indicates, the disparity begins as early as pre-school. According to this report, black students only represent 18 percent of pre-school enrollment, but they make up 42 percent of those who have been suspended once, and 48 percent are suspended more than once. In 2014, that is simply unacceptable.

Educator, scientist and inventor George Washington Carver once stated that education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom. I couldn't agree more. As a preacher and as a civil rights advocate, I have focused heavily on the need to reform our schools and close the education gap. Through the years, I've tried to work with individuals and groups from all sides. In 2009, President Obama asked Newt Gingrich and me (two people from opposite ends of the political spectrum) to go on an education tour together. Despite my differences with Gingrich, I knew the importance of bringing attention to our failing schools and our struggling system was bigger than our own political leanings or what others thought of our decision to work together.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I witnessed first-hand the difference that a quality education made in the lives of people around me. Those lucky enough to go to good schools often went on to good colleges, received good jobs and were able to provide more for their families and move up in the social structure of life. That's precisely why I later chose to work with folks like former Mayor Bloomberg and former Schools Chancellor Klein to address the situation -- much to the chagrin of my own base. On the flipside, today I agree with those in NYC that are currently pushing back against charter school co-locations that ignore the needs of children with disabilities. While I believe all public schools can provide a valuable service, we cannot displace the most vulnerable students in the public school system.

Over the past several years, I have worked with individuals from all sides of the ideological and political landscape. And I can tell you first-hand that the extremes do not solve the problem. It's only when we come to the table and meet in the middle that we see concrete changes being implemented. It's only when we put our differences to the side and rise to the challenge that we begin to reverse these egregious trends. And it's only when we make children from all zip codes and all backgrounds a priority that we see the vision of Brown v. Board come to fruition.

There is no reason why black and Latino four-year olds face higher rates of suspension, or why they also attend schools with fewer resources. A child's life often hinges on the level and depth of education he/she receives. We must clear out the noise and bring advocates from both sides into the same room. We cannot continue to ignore the plight of our children, and we cannot continue to attack one another. It's not about any one politician, civil rights advocate, charter school proponent, union leader or grassroots organizer; it's about that innocent boy or girl who deserves a chance to make it in this world. Let's not stack the deck against those kids -- let's work together to make educational equality a reality, and let's open that golden door to freedom for all.