Howard Fuller: More parental choice, more hope for black children

Editor’s note: Dr. Howard Fuller is board chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. This is the fourth post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Dr. Fuller
Dr. Fuller

My parental school choice wish this year is to see substantive and real improvements in the life chances of all of our children, particularly those who come from low-income and working-class Black families in America.

For them, the realization of the promise of the American dream remains largely elusive. The crushing impact of poverty with all of its manifestations is the primary reason they face huge odds in their quest for a better life. For them, the only chance they have to improve their individual lives is to have access to a quality education. Yet, in America today, 42 percent of black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly. Forty-three percent of African-American students will not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma.2013WISHLISTFINAL

These horrific data will not get better without empowering parents to be able to choose better options for their children. Yet, opponents of parent choice and other transformational education reform initiatives continue to place one obstacle after another in the path of parents seeking the power to choose the best educational environment for their children and/or to fundamentally change some of the systems that purport to educate their children. While cloaking their arguments against these reform efforts in the rhetoric of protecting democracy, ensuring equity, and supporting social justice, they are in fact this generation’s protectors of the status quo. Many of them were at one time opponents of the bureaucracy that now stands in the way of fundamental change, and fighters to empower the people. Now, they ARE the bureaucracy and no longer interested in giving power to the people!!

Throughout history, black people have waged a continuing struggle to educate themselves and their children. Time and again, black people have been in a position where others have had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children. While those in power have employed very different means, the net result has left low-income and working-class African-Americans with fewer high-quality educational options.

The current debate over parent choice and transformational education reform is the latest chapter in that struggle. This debate arises directly from the fact that far too many of our poorest children are not receiving a quality education. A troubling double standard hangs over this debate. Many who can choose quality options for their own children question the idea of empowering less affluent families to do likewise.

My own vision for the future of our struggle remains anchored by the belief that we must give poor parents the power to choose educational environments – public or private, non-sectarian or religious – where their children will succeed. As our history illustrates, this is not a new idea. Rather, it is a continuation of black people’s struggle to ensure our children get the education they must have to stay on the pathway to freedom.

Coming Monday: Julio Fuentes, president and CEO, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director of Research & Special Projects at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times).