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Education, By Any Means

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By Anthony A. Williams and Kevin P. Chavous
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"We want freedom by any means necessary."

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When Malcolm X uttered those words in June 1964, a chill traveled down the spine of America. The phrase signaled a change in the tone and tenor of the civil rights movement. It was understood that those fighting for equality and justice were willing to do anything to achieve those rights. Malcolm's words made clear that tedious, incremental steps toward freedom for African Americans were unacceptable and would not be tolerated. "By any means necessary" represented a crossroads in the civil rights movement.

Our nation faces a similar crossroads today regarding education reform. Ensuring that every American child receives equal access to high-quality education represents our last civil rights struggle. By any objective measure, the educational offerings we provide for our children, particularly children of color, do them a disservice.

Consider:

-- Barely half of the African American and Latino students who enter high school graduate.

-- The reading skills gap between white 17-year-olds and 17-year-olds of color is greater today than it was in 1990.

As a nation, our educational outputs for all children continue to slide in comparison with other industrialized nations. And in the District, as in many cities, we endure equally shocking deficits. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has testified that:

-- As of the 2006-07 school year, less than half of D.C. students were proficient in reading or math.


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