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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Violation of the Spirit of Brown V. Board of Education

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Just a few days ago, we marked the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling that abolished "separate but equal" schools in our education system. It was a landmark moment that not only recognized the importance of integration, but also the value of education. In the 60 years since that ruling, we have made tremendous strides, but we have also failed many black, Latino and poor students that are still attending failing schools with inadequate supplies and unprepared teachers. The disparity is so great in fact that we simply have not lived up to the spirit of Brown v. Board. Educational inequality isn't a notion from the past; it is happening right now all across this nation. And the facts simply don't lie.

In today's New York Times, there's a full-page ad signed by me and every major civil rights leader in the country supporting Common Core, which establishes a set of shared high expectations. Parents, educators and members of all communities must rally around this initiative because inequity in our schools and in our educational system is creating division at an alarming level. According to the Center for American Progress, students of color and low-income students are more likely to be taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers. "In high-poverty schools, 27 percent of classes are taught by out-of-field teachers compared with only 14 percent in low-poverty schools," they state.

Their data goes on to highlight the fact that students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners are less likely to graduate from high school on time. And according to the Center: "Between 1995 and 2009, there was a disparity by race in college enrollment rates at the 468 most selective four-year colleges in the nation." They also state the following: "By age 24, young adults from families in the highest income quintile are more than seven times as likely to have earned a bachelor's degree as students from families in the lowest income quintile."

This is intolerable. If everyone agrees that a quality education is one of the most significant indicators of a person's success, then we must do more to equalize our system. We can no longer blame a child for falling behind if he or she doesn't receive the appropriate courses, or isn't taught by appropriately trained professionals. How can we tell an innocent student to do well if we are setting them up for failure? Because state and local funding account for over 90 percent of expenses (according to the National Center for Education Statistics), does that mean that children in urban and rural areas are just out of luck because they happen to be born in the wrong neighborhood? Quality education should never be a lottery in the most powerful nation on earth.

Until we resolve educational inequality, we cannot fully target other social problems like unemployment, poverty and crime. They are all correlated; and a sensible approach to tackling all must begin with repairing our schools. We must arm our youth with textbooks and opportunities so that they may never pick up an actual weapon.

On the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, President Obama stated the following:

"We reaffirm our belief that all children deserve an education worthy of their promise. And we remember that change did not come overnight - that it took many years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children. We will never forget the men, women, and children who took extraordinary risks in order to make our country more fair and more free. Today, it falls on us to honor their legacy by taking our place in their march, and doing our part to perfect the union we love. "

I agree 100 percent. A few years back, the president asked former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and me to conduct an education tour around the nation. Despite our own political and ideological differences, we agreed because we know that advancing education is a cause everyone should champion.

No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, or what our own personal background, we must eradicate inequality in our schools. We owe it to the leaders who fought tirelessly for an end to "separate but equal." We owe it to the great educators that serve our children so well in many schools across the country daily. And of course, we owe it to the youth of America and to future generations that will come after us.