Most Americans still believe in the American Dream: if you work hard and do the right things then you can be anything you want to be.
So how is the dream going for Americans today? Not too dreamy: almost 66% of poor children will remain poor as adults and only 4% of Americans raised at the bottom of the economic ladder will rise to the top as adults. The children growing up in our country today will be the first generation of Americans who are less well educated than their parents.
Most of us believe in education as the great equalizer. Most of us believe that education is the vehicle to move you where you want to go in life, no matter where you started. Under these beliefs, the American public education system is one of the most important institutions in the world.
Is it delivering? The answer, unfortunately, is “no.”
Consider the data: Nationally, 4 out of 5 African American students are not reading at grade level by 4th grade; about 6 out of 7 African American students are not performing math at grade level by 8th grade; and only 1 out of 25 African American students finish high school college-ready in their core subjects.
When we look at Tennessee specifically, the numbers are equally grim. In 2013, only 1 out of 7 African American 4th graders were proficient in reading. That same year, only 1 out of 7 African American 8th graders were proficient in math.
The numbers tell one of the saddest narratives in this country. But what or who is to blame for this story? Parents? Teachers? Principals? Violence? Crime? Poverty?
While we can focus on any of these players as part of the problem, the reality is that we can’t spend time assigning blame. Our students deserve better and it’s our responsibility, as adults, to drive toward solutions. We all acknowledge that social environments and the challenges of poverty disrupt the abilities of parents, teachers, and leaders to educate our children. Unfortunately, we can’t do a lot to alleviate these conditions. But there is one environment where we can have a great deal of control: our schools.
If we can improve the quality of services and education provided within our schools, we have a chance to make sure that more than four out of every 100 African American students are actually ready to make something of themselves in college. If we can exercise the courage to expect more of our students academically, to expect more of our teachers professionally, and to expect more of our parents socially, we have a chance to balance our communities of the future.
What will it take to do what so many have tried to do for over 60 years? Just as no one person or community has the answer, no one school has the model for all students. That means families need choices. No family should ever feel as if they’re trapped in a failing school without options. We must ensure that we’re utilizing every possible opportunity for our children to have access to an effective school.
Now is the time. We can no longer wait. And our children certainly can’t. As leaders in this community, we’re ready to answer the call. We invite you to join us in this effort and ensure that the efforts to reform our schools are driven by the community for the community.