The Educational Opportunity Divide

We must acknowledge educational equity as the civil rights issue of our time. Our own moral shortcoming renders us craven in the face of interest group politics.

Photo © istockphoto / Gloda -

Photo © istockphoto / Gloda -

The irony of the progressive ideal, when it comes to choice and equal opportunity in public school education, reveals itself in the relegation of children’s constitutional rights and the empowerment of the adults within our public education classrooms. It can be thought of as the egregious disenfranchisement of at-risk youth with the help of tax dollars. Our own moral shortcoming renders us craven in the face of interest group politics.

In New York City today, this progressive ideal has taken the form of a highly protected, fiercely debated, nearly 200 page collective bargaining agreement between the United Federation of Teachers and the City’s Board of Education. This agreement continues to exacerbate the racial divide, and cater to the privileged and power silos that the progressive platform institutionally tongue-lashes, but that others, like Mayor Bill de Blasio, opportunistically support.

This year the Mayor decided it was not worth his trouble and wasted endorsement dollars to defy the unions and close low-performing schools. He cited poverty as the reason why over 100 failing schools had less than 10 percent of their students passing state exams. His solution: the installation of washing machines and dryers in these low-performing community schools, eyeglasses for a handful of elementary school children, and Advanced Placement class offerings in schools where 90 percent of children are failing English Language competency exams.

Despite clear evidence that these schools have the least qualified teachers, the least experienced teachers, the leanest course offerings, the worst facilities, and, of course, the highest concentrations of poverty—de Blasio has shown a shameful unwillingness to fight for children attending these failing schools—a startling 90 percent of whom are minorities. He bows to unions, and has chosen to willfully ignore the moral imperative to bring opportunity to Black and Latino children, whose only route out of poverty—and out of the streets—is a quality education.

The devaluation of social justice for these children is unacceptable. Submitting to the notion that poverty is apparently the exclusive culprit for the almost two-thirds of New York City students who are ill-prepared for college, and the notion that poverty is the reason why every 29 seconds a student of color gives up on school, (combined with evidence from studies that suggest a dropout is more than eight times as likely to find him or herself in prison than a high school graduate), we collectively confirm these minority children’s lives simply do not deserve attention—unless they end up being another victim of racial and police violence promulgated by the media.

We must acknowledge education equity as the civil rights issue of our time. It is the vehicle to economic opportunity and is the only viable counterweight to income inequality. We cannot afford appeasement by a low expectations model that generously serves political interests, and remain content with a cheap, progressive price tag where the black and Latino experience is seen only through the lens of poverty. We need more deliberate action.

If we dared to live in a world where the real stakeholders were children, school choice was ubiquitous, and teaching quality was an unconditional norm to ensure proper accountability, we could begin to rectify the social injustice prevalent in public schools, and with it, engage our future workforce this country so badly depends on.

Note: All thoughts are the author’s own.