Giving Students a Brighter Future Means Equal Access to Quality Education

Monday, July 2, 2007
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Over fifty years ago when the decision from Brown v Board of Education was announced there was much optimism that it would help create an education system grounded in equal access to quality education for all students – no matter of color, economic status or geographic location. Although, as the years pass, it is disheartening to see the civil rights of our children get deferred and their dreams stymied by politics.

On the playgrounds in Miami, I can tell you that our future leaders – today’s school-aged children – still have dreams. But, as a community are we sticking to our convictions to ensure that all children have equal access to a quality education?

In recent month, there are been big debates about what needs to be fixed in the No Child Left Behind Act. What troubles me most is seeing politicians engage in dialogues that seem to only shift the blame for what hasn’t worked. What I think we need is to start investigating programs that are positively impacting students in thousands of schools around the country and working with leaders on the community levels to replicate these practices.

One new program created under the No Child Left Behind act is the supplemental educational services program (a.k.a. free tutoring). This program is designed to provide student most “left behind” in public education with extra support in reading and math. It is free to parents, focused on students in schools with the lowest performance records and with the greatest academic needs.

Seems like a perfect start to fixing our old, tired and broken education system. But sadly, out of an estimated 1.4 million children eligible to receive free tutoring last year, only 233,000, or 17% took advantage of the opportunity. Why are so few students taking advantage of this opportunity, especially when it targets the subset of the U.S. K-12 student population who are in dire need of both help and hope?

At a recent civil rights hearing in Washington, DC, Juan Granados, a parent from Dallas, Texas said, “school districts don’t give you information until the last minute so the parents didn’t have enough time to make a decision.” Another parent, Nytasha Lee, stated that school officials seemed to go out of their way to make it difficult for her to get her kids tutoring services and reported that information was hard to read “because they were not published in all the languages that were in the school.”

As Congress debates reauthorization activities, they might:
1) establish requirements about how parents are notified about the tutoring program to ensure districts are not causing unnecessary roadblock to limit access and participation in the tutoring program;
2) requiring school districts to use tutoring funds for tutoring services rather than allowing districts to roll tutoring funds into
the general budget for other uses;
3) enhancing and monitoring the implementation of the SES program to assure that equal access is being provided to all students; and,
4) encouraging more community-based organizations to participate in the program.

The NCLB free tutoring program is new. While there have been administrative challenges, I believe it offers hope to many families and students who still dream of brighter futures. Let’s not let free tutoring for poor kids fall by the wayside as a result of the political food fight.

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About T.Willard Fair

T. Willard Fair is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Greater Miami, Inc. He has worked for the Urban League since September 1963. Fair has served as an adjunct professor at the Atlanta University School of Social Work, Bethune Cookman College, Florida International University, and the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Jr., Center for Urban Leadership.

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