NAACP calls for equality in education

NAACP calls for equality in education

Petrie, Phil W

On Nov. 15, 2001, the NAACP issued “A Call for Action,” a 40-page document citing racial disparities in education across the nation. John Jackson, director of the NAACP Education Department, with the help of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, pulled together the data in the document. It was then sent to the U. S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, state secretaries of education and governors.

At a November press conference, NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume pointed out that, “Nearly 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, affirmed the goal of equality of educational opportunity for all children, racial inequality persists in too many of our nation’s educational systems.”

Across the country, many African American students are over-represented in special education, while under-represented in honors programs, the NAACP notes. In Minnesota, African American students are six times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students; in Louisiana, African American students make up 31 percent of fourthand eighth-graders in the public school system, but are 75 percent of fourthand eighth-graders retained in grade.

NAACP units in all 50 states distributed the Call for Action document that identified areas in which consistent racial disparities existed. The recipients of the call were asked to take action in their agencies and to submit five-year education equity plans to the NAACP by May 10.

“We sent the document in a spirit of partnership,” Jackson says. “The bottom line is that we have to move forward. The Office for Civil Rights, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, assures that in schools there must be equity for students – African American, Asian, Latino, Native American, white. Equity in education is our focus. Many educational systems don’t have equity plans; that’s something that states should already have.”

It is also something that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) requires. Signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 8, the law stipulates that for states and educational districts to receive money for education, they must show academic improvement for various subgroups under Title I of the act (Improving Academic Performance of the Disadvantaged). These subgroups include: disadvantaged, migrants, neglected and delinquent children.

“It is not just improvement on test scores,” Daniel L. Losen of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, points out.

“There must also be improvement on graduating rates.”

“The NAACP is committed to finishing the work of Brown vs. Board of Education,” Jackson says.

“When I came on staff [in October 2000], there was one other person in the department. The department now has a staff of 10.”

The department has a complement of educational components that involve a wide spectrum of programs: ACTSO, Entrepreneurial Skills, Back to School, Stay in School (an effort to reduce drop-out rates and truancy) and a library that houses the Henry Lee Moon Library and Archives, a major civil rights collection.

According to Jackson, the NAACP’s Education Department is working on four fronts: ensuring educational equity, increasing parental involvement, improving teacher quality and networking, or forming partnerships, with other groups.

Three such partners are the Advertising Council, Eastman Kodak Co. and the People for the American Way Foundation. The NAACP joined this trio to launch a nationwide grassroots media campaign encouraging African American and Latino parents to become more involved in their children’s education. The three-year campaign is called “Success in School Equals Success in Life.” Public campaign ads will offer parents a toll-free number (800 281-1313) to call for information.

It is this kind of partnership that A Call for Action advocates. The document states in its introduction:

Across disparities in educational quality and achievement demonstrate the need for federal, state and local educational agencies to partner with community agents. Together these partners must develop and implement strategies to remove racial disparities and improve the quality of education in the district, state and country.”

– Phil W. Petrie

Copyright Crisis Publishing Company, Incorporated Mar/Apr 2002

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