Educators See Civil Rights Issue in Bad Schools

Devlin Barrett, AP, June 12, 2008

If Johnny can’t read and Sally can’t add, it’s often because of the color of their skin and their ZIP code, educators and activists said Wednesday.

The heads of the New York City and Washington, D.C., school systems joined with civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and others to press for a shake-up of public schools from coast to coast to narrow the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students. The group called the gap the nation’s most pressing civil rights issue.

By the time they near high school graduation, black and Hispanic teenagers on average have math and reading skills no higher than that of white middle-school students four years younger.

Nationally, 55 percent of black males graduate high school on time, compared to about 78 percent for whites, according to recent data released by Education Week with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The group has yet to advocate any specific policies it wants to see enacted, but in general its leading members said they want to see greater accountability from teachers, more incentives to reward success, and greater parental responsibility for educating children.

“We are in an age where we are trying to move beyond race, but achievement in education is not beyond race,” said Sharpton. “Our children are drowning in the waters of indifference and old coalitions that no longer work and no longer care.”

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