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State of Emergency - Part One

Published 6/29/2011 10:31:39 AM
By Adrian L. Ford
...it is clear that if people of color and the nation as a whole are to claim a common future, the effort to build that future must be a common task, and a shared responsibility.

As racial and ethnic minority Americans, we understand that our future and the future of our country are one. Yet, as many Americans struggle with the damaging economic effects of "The Great Recession," the future is threatened on two fronts. On the one hand, a perilous gulf continues to widen between us and the rest of America; on the other, the nation is challenged as never before in its struggle to compete in the global marketplace. As the country confronts these complex challenges, it is clear that if people of color and the nation as a whole are to claim a common future, the effort to build that future must be a common task, and a shared responsibility.

A grievous injustice continues to obstruct the path to success for millions of poor, and children of color that are left behind or excluded, not because they are incapable or undeserving, but because society is not embracing their potential.

At the individual level, large numbers of children of color are struggling against profound divisions in the nation’s life opportunities that continue to impede their progress. Research conducted at the RAND Corporation in 2010 found that African American and Latino children are 3.4 times more likely than white children to live in poverty being “deprived of the essential elements needed to improve advancement and success in our society. ”Children of color are facing alarming disparities in most social indicators of success including: academic achievement; quality health care; jobs and career opportunities, and safe and healthy living environments. A grievous injustice continues to obstruct the path to success for millions of poor, and children of color that are left behind or excluded, not because they are incapable or undeserving, but because society is not embracing their potential.

Within the next decade more than half of the student population of America’s public schools, and that means more than half of the future workforce, will consist of minority groups that have historically faced educational inequities.

At the same time in America, the role and expectation of the federal government has forever changed. Efforts of state and local municipalities to address deficits and balance budgets are painfully and disproportionately hurting racial minorities, and other poor and middle- class residents. Additionally, the country’s workforce is aging; the number of retirees is growing, and young people of color are the pool from which the productive workforce of the future will increasingly be drawn.

Within the next decade more than half of the student population of America’s public schools, and that means more than half of the future workforce, will consist of minority groups that have historically faced educational inequities. And as state governments make across- the- board cuts in education, it is obvious that these cuts will be destructive to student’s educational opportunities and to the nation’s economic future as well. Will minority students increase graduation rates from high school and end up in college, or will they drop out of school and continue to be victimized by joblessness, crime, violence, incarceration or even death?

More than a pervasive sense of complacency, we should be ashamed and morally outraged, at the human and economic cost of maintaining the status quo.

Since 1993 Massachusetts has provided $21 billion in new state education funding to school districts across the state. Currently Massachusetts leads the nation in student achievement. While in 2010 the state’s overall high school graduation rates slightly improved, the graduation rates for black and Latino students remained around 20 points behind those of white students. So even in a state that has realized achievements based on progressive education reform policies, like the rest of America, the achievement gaps separating white students from black and Latinos continue to be appalling. To illustrate the powerful urgency of this situation, a recent McKinsey and Company report says this achievement gap is ”the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.” Moreover, around the country, three-quarters of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, as are 59% of federal inmates. And of the over 1.5 million state and federal inmates in 2008, over 950,000 were black and Latino. More than a pervasive sense of complacency, we should be ashamed and morally outraged, at the human and economic cost of maintaining the status quo.

The key to reversing the persistent disparities in educational equity that confront children of color and other marginalized groups, is to transform and continue to reinvent public education. Because neither the nation nor our children can be assured of success; nor can one succeed, while the other fails.

We desperately need economic and social policies that will combat poverty and unemployment, and create a prosperous, just, and growing economy. And regardless of our circumstances, we need to accept more personal responsibility for our actions, decisions, and behavior. And as parents, as well as other responsible adults, we need to teach our children and model by example; that effort always precedes opportunity. However, it is also clear that none of these objectives can be reached without a quality education for all Americans, not just for a privileged few. The key to reversing the persistent disparities in educational equity that confront children of color and other marginalized groups, is to transform and continue to reinvent public education. Because neither the nation nor our children can be assured of success; nor can one succeed, while the other fails.

Mount Wachusett Community College, whose main facility is located in Gardner, Mass., is providing unique 21st century models of education and skills development, that are resulting in real, successful educational opportunities for black, Latino and other diverse students.

Many leaders, including President Barack Obama, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, are advocating for an increased role for community colleges that use innovation and multiple approaches to help the least and most advantaged students to transition from high school to adulthood, and increase their life opportunities. In part two, I will explore how Mount Wachusett Community College, whose main facility is located in Gardner, Mass., is providing unique 21st century models of education and skills development, that are resulting in real, successful educational opportunities for black, Latino and other diverse students.