EDUCATION

Give every kid a fighting chance to succeed in school

 

twfair@miamiurbanleague.org

I was just finishing the ninth grade in Winston-Salem, N.C., when Brown v. Board of Education struck down the false belief, and consequently the policy structure, that schools could be racially separate but equal.

That landmark decision 60 years ago opened the pathway to better schools for all children. It gave parents, especially black parents, opportunities that were previously unavailable, and gave students like me an increased sense of hope and excitement about the future. It was a huge step forward, but in many ways we are still fighting for equality in education six decades later.

A national policy report card released by StudentsFirst last month gives Florida education policies high marks in many areas. It also outlines other areas where the state needs to improve; specifically the areas of school choice and wiser spending.

While the law today doesn’t force kids to attend a particular school because of their race, it does force many of them into schools based on where they live. And where they live is largely determined by how much money their parents make. So in many ways, our kids, particularly those of color or from low-income families, are still separate and unequal.

For most kids, there are only two ways to get out of a low-performing school. Be lucky, or be rich. Parents who make six-figure salaries can usually buy school choice. They can send their kids to private schools or move into the neighborhoods with the best public-school districts.

The rest have to rely on the luck of the lottery for a public charter school or hope their kid gets picked for one of a limited number of vouchers or scholarships that would allow them to escape their circumstances.

Those are good options, but right now they’re too limited. They aren’t reaching all the kids who need them. And for many parents, they’re not enough to get their child out of a low-performing school and in front of a great teacher who can help that child learn.

We need more quality public charter schools, and we could get them, but under our current system in Florida, the best charter school organizations are only allowed to grow at the rate of one school a year. Some local school boards also make it difficult for anyone to open a public charter school in a district despite parents’ demands for better options.

In addition to better options, Florida parents and policymakers also need better information. Better information allows us to make better decisions, particularly on how we spend limited education dollars.

There never seems to be enough money to pay for everything we want in our education system. So we need a way to distinguish school spending that works from school spending that doesn’t.

The state already has the financial and academic data we need at the school level. It’s time we connect that data so we can see what’s really going on with spending in individual schools and districts.

This kind of fiscal transparency will help level the playing field for our kids. It will allow parents and policymakers to have a clearer picture of where our dollars are doing the most good and where they are being wasted.

We’ve come a long way in civil rights since Brown v. Board of Education, and Florida has been a national leader in education reform for several years. But we still have a lot of work to do. We can’t wait another 60 years to figure this out. Our kids need us to fix the education system now. With a focus on expanding education options for parents and spending education dollars wisely, we can overcome the barriers that exist today in education and give every child a fighting chance for success.

T. Willard Fair started Florida’s first charter school in 1996, served on the Florida Board of Education, and has led the Urban League of Greater Miami as president for more than 50 years.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • AUTISM

    Learning alongside my daughter, Bela

    My daughter, Bela, who has autism, doesn’t go anywhere without a pair of socks, which is odd because she never wears socks. Rather she carries them around as if they were dolls.

  •  
Gabriel Garcia Marquez died on Thursday.

    GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

    His words dazzled the world

    Gabriel García Márquez has left us. His was also a death foretold, but no less shocking, because we resist saying farewell to our heroes. And García Márquez, the immense writer, was a superhero of literature.

  • EARLY LEARNING

    The imperative is to educate our children

    When the two of us were graduated from high school, nobody seemed to be worrying about China or Brazil or India competing with us as an economy or in education. We took for granted that we were the best in the world in education and the economy and had no reason to believe that would ever change. Everyone seemed to be able to get a job — and to do so with not much more than the bare basics of education.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category