Everybody has an opinion on what should be done to “fix” public education. Unlike the issues arising in the medical field, tax law, or immigration, the average person has sufficient exposure to or knowledge of what takes place in a public school building. Every campaign season politicians discuss the need to “improve education,” and nearly every year states pass new legislation to help “make students competitive.” Public education and those that work within this field are also targeted and blamed, and in recent years a large trend for more charter schools and private schools has led parents to remove their children from the “failing system.” As parents remove their children from public education and society as a whole attempts to “assign blame” for the failing educational system, a socioeconomic segregation in today’s youth is setting the foundation for the future of civil rights movements.
It is easy to see that the current system is far from perfect. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2008 only 39% of 17-year old students were able to find, understand, summarize, and explain relatively complicated literary and informational material. Internationally, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores have left the United States far behind other countries in regards to student performance. There is also evidence to show that drop out rates are still high, individuals are struggling to find employment after school even if they do pass, and the curriculum being taught is not necessarily helping students with jobs they are able to find.
Despite its prevalence in society and endless discussions about how to fix these problems, many people still do not consider public education to be a civil rights issue. However, the racial disparities are impossible to ignore: 47% of white students are at the highest level of reading, while only 21% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students are at that same level. There are also studies that show correlations between socioeconomic status and academic achievement, and additional studies to demonstrate that academic achievement can lead to future success. Unfortunately, these studies also show the correlations between low socioeconomic status, low academic achievement, and future inability to maintain steady employment. These studies form the basis of the “school to prison pipeline” and highlight how the failure to fix the educational system harms society as a whole.
Webster dictionary defines civil rights as the nonpolitical rights of the citizen, or the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. The rights of citizens to political and social equality form the foundation for the most famous civil rights movements in our nation’s history. Education forms the foundation of these civil rights, as the purpose of education is to give all people an opportunity for success in the future. Those individuals leading our country, our states, our cities, and even our universities are all well educated, regardless of their race or former socioeconomic status. A strong education gives people an opportunity to pursue greater professions, to change their socioeconomic status, and to potentially avoid a life of crime or violence. All people have the right to social freedom and equality, yet without the knowledge of how to pursue those rights many individuals are left reliant on the educated elite who are able to navigate their way through the current system.
The reality is that all children can learn, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Charter schools, private schools, and public schools have all provided evidence that children can learn in the right atmosphere and with the right teacher. Despite this evidence, people still refer to public school demographics and make assumptions about what that school is able to accomplish. People hear where an individual went to school and immediately make assumptions about that individual and what his experiences were like at that school, and assume he is similar to his peers. This is one of the reasons several educated parents that can afford to do so will place their children in private schools, where the assumption is that they will be getting a superior education and be in a better position to excel in the future.
Public education is the civil rights issue and a primary staple of our society that must be addressed to ensure that individuals have an equal opportunity at obtaining employment, higher education, and quality housing. Without addressing public education as a civil rights issue, we can only address the aftermath of inequality and not put prevent these issues from arising in the future. The research is available, and educators across the country can provide further insight into what changes need to happen to ensure that students are able to pursue social freedom and equality. Yet until public education is recognized as a true civil rights issue, and a majority of educated and uneducated adults are ready to demand true educational equality and opportunities, the education system will remain a topic for debate and political campaigns.