Duncan Enlists Sharpton’s Civil Rights Network in Education Reform

“You are all partners and allies in reforming public education,” Secretary Arne Duncan said last week at the National Action Network’s 14th Annual Convention in Washington. “An excellent education for very child is a moral and civic imperative, as well as an economic one. This issue is even bigger than education—it is an issue of social justice and economic security,” Duncan said.

One takeaway from the conference is that the civil rights community has a long and distinguished history of taking courageous action to drive social change, and it will take collective will to make a difference in boosting the nation’s graduation rates and turning around our low-performing schools. “Without equality in education there will never be equality in society. We have to do what’s right for our children and make education a priority,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network.

Secretary Duncan explained that “we have to have a strategy to build an economy that will last—and education is the centerpiece of it.” Duncan praised groups like the National Action Network for their work with communities, and said that “we need to keep fighting together for strong local, state and national investments.”

Concerning Data on Inequities

During his remarks, Duncan highlighted recently released data from the Civil Rights Data Collection that provides policymakers, educators, parents and communities with critical information that will aid them in identifying inequities and targeting solutions to close the persistent education achievement and opportunity gap in America.

The new data show minority students across America face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.  Teachers in schools serving mostly minorities get paid an average of $2,250 less per year. Just 29% of schools serving high minority populations offer calculus compared to 55% of high schools serving non-minorities. African American students are three-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended and expelled than whites. African American students are 18% of the nation’s student population but 35% of the suspensions and 35% of students to be arrested. This is what’s known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Despite the best efforts of educators to bring greater equity to our schools, too many children, especially low-income and minority students, are still denied the educational opportunities they need to succeed.  Duncan explained the need to change laws and policies that require schools to distribute resources more equitably.  

 Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream speech,” Duncan noted in closing. “I plan to be on the (Washington) Mall with you—marking the moment—and reaffirming our commitment to end discrimination in housing, in jobs, in education, in opportunity and to realize the American dream for everyone no matter their color, race, religion or background,” he said. “There is so much at stake, and together we hold the key to the future.”

Kimberly Watkins-Foote is Director of African American Communications and Outreach


  1. Arne Duncan , I believe has good intentions but misinformed as to the true reasons for the failure of America’s public schools to properly educate its African American student populations..Black inner-city students continue to graduate three years behind White kids and have a drop-out rate of 53%..If we combine this drop-out rate with the highly conservative estimate that 16% of these students will fail to pass state required exit exams, we arrive at a figure indicating that only 37% of Black students will receive high school diplomas..Functional illiteracy is one indicator of the demise of a community..A great deal of young adult and juvenile Black male offenders are incarcerated within our correctional institutions at alarming rates..A large percentage of these offenders are “functionally illiterate”…If you don’t read, you don’t know and will never find out” (Green)..Illiteracy remains that villain which continues to cause so many of the problems of the Black community and problems confronting other minorities!”The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement:Failure of America’s Public Schools to Properly Educate its African American Student Populations” can be previewed in July, 2012, on Amazon.com..

  2. Everyone understands that Education Reform is all about privatizing public education. Wall Street is already modelling the new charter school financial stream as K-12 moves from public to private charters. We understand that we had a strong education system back in the 1950s – 1970s with rote learning and strong work ethic and discipline in the classroom. Plenty of innovative and sadly dubious people emerged from the best education system in the world………public and equal access.

    We see as Arne Duncan tells underserved communities that this is all about them that underseved schools are still receiving less revenue, staff are still the lowest paid in the states, students are actually being tiered for funding with disabled and underserved students at the bottom of that scale.

    Wall Street has openly said that the privatizing of K – 12 must start in the undersved communities where there is no organization to fight against it. Cities are even creating Charter School Boards, preparing the infrastructure for takeover. This Bush Administration tactic, neo-conservative approach of ‘tell them what they want to hear and then do what you want’ has been used long enough. We want parents and teachers of all races and economic level to fight this incremental breakup of the best educational system in the world.

    The same universities and their graduates pushing this school technology for private profits agenda are the same ones who moved US schools from the old school success story to the new school learning style that caused the system to collapse….I say with intent!

  3. Since most major American Universities (Princeton, Yale, and Harvard) along with local public schools started (Especially during the period between the Revolutionary and the Civil War) out as sole educational institutions affiliated deeply with religious denominations. Why can’t the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership inside of the Obama Administration do more to encourage inner city ethnic/minority churches to involve themselves with the problems of failing schools in their immediate neighborhood. Why can’t they be led to attack that onerous pipeline between public schools and prisons (public and private)? Realistically, I can’t understand why there’s such a disconnect! Surely, this is a palpable campaign issue of high merit for the Presidential Elections of 2012. Why doesn’t does anyone think about these structural flaws in our democracy? In addition, at the grassroots level, there resides the talent to solve many of the social ills that America suffers from if an only there can be an empowerment in government to stop castigating the working class and other so called lower classes. This ideology of always promoting the middle class happens to be asinine and that’s why this country is having so much difficulty in getting on track. The US Government, needs to broaden its own understanding of using class warfare via the Democrat and Republican Party, and deeply begin to listen to the poor and unaffiliated. Some of these folks that I am talking about are the Meek of the Earth and since they have a Heavenly inheritance waiting for them I believe they can begin to play a missionary role right now in the world in reforming poorly performing public schools. No other challenge can be as great than what I am talking about the 600,000 plus Black Churches in North America. Without empowering them and others to engage and falling back on the knee jerk reaction of always throwing away too much money at the dilemma that I talk about and other problems and persist in preventing any grassroots involvement, but always trumpeting, i.e., the Education Department, about the goal of improving poor performing schools and that this goal is tantamount to the new Civil Rights is nothing more than sheer rhetoric! What a ridiculous thought when there’s still no proof of transparency and accountability as the President promised in the 2008 Campaign. Yes, no systematic outreaching to the indigenous faith-based community.

  4. Teachers are hired based upon application. They are not placed in schools as if they were drafted into the military. Wait…that sounds like a good idea. They are public servants…right? Many of the Title I Schools have underqualified teachers, because that is their applicant pool. Why would you distrubute resources to schools, where the staff and administration are not qualified to properly utilize them?

    Most teachers with Masters degrees and continuing education; on top of their BA, apply to teach at traditionally high performing schools. It is in these districts, that the aforementioned statistics are found. That is a extremely troubling trend; Black students underachieving, in schools with great resources. Maybe there needs to be a shift in Human Resources toward these districts.

  5. The intent of discrediting public education is soley to promote charter schools and priviatize our educational system. I hope those actvitely involved in the civil rights movement realize this movement helped create the education system we have today. This is a system that educates all students no matter their ethnicity or exceptionally. Dr. King stated “his dream was that all children would come together, be educated together, and have the same opportunities.” If charter schools prevail it would be a step back to the area of segregation, because these schools would have the flexibility to select the students that attend, remove students at their discression, and be exempt from hiring highly qualified and diverse teachers.

  6. Surely, Secretary Duncan knows that the 2002 NCLB law requires that all Title I Schools (high poverty) employ only highly qualified (H.Q. Status) teachers in their schools. Federal law is clear on the subject and if they are not employed, then funding should not be going into those schools. Now whose fault is that? Public Schools are monitored each year and all credentials are checked in each school. So where are they collecting negative data? Perhaps this is another angle to pull in Charter Schools rather than fund existing public schools with the necessary number of classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, textbooks, classroom supplies, and classroom assistants. Adequate funding for staff, training, after-school tutoring and supplies will solve the problem. Rev. Sharpton needs to join educators across the nation and promote adequate funding and he then he will find the social justice!

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