|“I hope they get education reform before our kids graduate from high school. ”
The United States once had the most highly educated population in the world. Erudite Americans were the envy of industrialized nations. Other countries knew that they had to do better to be competitive in the global economy.
Then Americans became complacent and rested on their number one status, while other nations worked hard to improve their education systems. Now American 15 year olds have fallen behind other students in Japan, Korea and northern Europe in the Program for International Student Assessment. The U.S. ranks 24th in math and 21st in science.
Policy makers understand that the decline of the nation’s schools does not bode well for the continuing economic dominance of the country. In this the age of technology, highly educated citizens with innovative ideas will be required to maintain the nation’s business leadership.
Continued references to the danger of the nation being academically overwhelmed are inspiring President Barack Obama’s efforts to improve the quality of public education. However, another perspective is often heard on the campaign trail for better schools. Some black leaders, incapable of moving beyond the civil rights movement, insist that public education is a civil right.
At this time, such a notion is unproductive. It creates the false impression that the drive to improve schools is essentially a race issue. This provides political support for conservatives who insist that education is the sole responsibility of the states, and is not properly within the purview of the federal government.
Their basic legal support is the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The U.S. Constitution is silent on the issue of education; however, there are relevant statutes.
Undoubtedly, brilliant lawyers might be able to establish that quality public education is a constitutional right, but that would be an unhelpful digression. This is no time to be sidetracked with legal debate on why education is constitutionally compelled, and how much education is necessary to satisfy that standard. Affluent conservatives would likely be willing to finance lawyers to pursue indefinitely their states’ rights views.
The case of Claremont v. New Hampshire should convince every supporter of education reform that it is essential to avoid the morass of state politics. It took 19 years and numerous lawsuits for the town of Claremont to gain acceptance of the notion that the state is constitutionally responsible for the education of its citizens. Debate continues as to how much education is constitutionally required. At that pace in numerous states, there would be no education reform.
There is a general awareness in the country that American education systems have fallen behind those in the industrialized world. An inferior level of academic achievement is both a national embarrassment and an impediment to economic growth and national security. Consequently, many politicians who might otherwise challenge the aggressive policies of the federal Department of Education are now supportive.
This is the time for astute black leaders to support the national agenda on education reform and reject a regression to strategies more appropriate for Brown v. Board of Education.