The Civil Rights Issue of Our Era

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Black History Month may have come and gone but Pioneer believes we must fight year round to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education without regard to zip code or race. Massachusetts has in the past and must continue to lead the way in this fight.

As numerous political leaders across the spectrum have come to understand, education is the Civil Rights issue of our era.

It is important to keep pushing for improvements in the school “system” in Boston (where the school district is hiring a new superintendent) and all across the state. But Pioneer is not pinning its hopes for our younger generations on the arrival of another “Superman” or silver bullet solutions.

We believe that the Bay State’s children cannot wait. They must have other options now.

For decades, education policymakers have devised big system solutions that cut parents out of the equation. That’s a missed opportunity to have parents play a strong role in their children’s choice of a school. All families deserve choices among high-quality schools – and that is why we support a portfolio of options including charter public schools, interdistrict choice programs (like METCO), more high-quality vocational technical schools, and even scholarships to private schools.

We recommend a variety of school choice options in urban districts, recognizing that a good education takes a motivated child and involved parents. School choices help ensure family participation.

In the coming weeks, look for new Pioneer research on expanding the METCO program. You can watch a “Greater Boston” interview that aired last week with Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios and Weston Superintendent Cheryl Maloney, both voicing support for the successful METCO program.

In the segment, Jim noted that graduation rates for METCO students are 30 percent higher than their Boston counterparts. Three-quarters of the program’s enrollees are Black and Hispanic, half are low-income, and one-quarter have special needs. METCO’s waiting list has 8,000 students. Read our op-eds and other appearances on this topic in the Boston Herald, WGBH, the MetroWest Daily News, WBZ Nightside, and Huffington Post, and our 2011 report, METCO Merits More.

Last week, Pioneer also held an event exploring the tensions between teachers unions and charter schools in the historical context of the Civil Rights movement. With almost 200 attendees, the forum garnered a lot of attention, including in The Boston Globe. Pioneer’s support for increasing the number of charter public schools in Boston and across the state is premised on their undeniable success in erasing the achievement gap.

Boston’s charters have been found by Stanford University’s CREDO to be the best in the country. On the 2014 administration of the MCAS exams, 24 percent more charter students scored proficient or advanced compared to the district average in English, 24 percent in math, and 27 percent in science. Over 40,000 children across Massachusetts are on charter school waiting lists.

Watch video highlights and clips from last week’s event below.

The first keynote speaker, Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, is the widow of the late civil rights leader the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who persuaded the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Shuttlesworth currently directs the Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy in Lansing.

The second Keynote Speaker is Stanford University History Professor Dr. Clayborne Carson, who directs the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute and is the editor of the MLK Papers.

The keynotes were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Raymond Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, which was the basis for the award-winning PBS American Experience documentary.

Panelists include Barbara Madeloni of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; Thomas Gosnell of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers; Kevin Andrews, senior advisor to the Boston Alliance of Charter Schools; and Gerard Robinson, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options Action Fund.

Watch the roundtable discussion in its entirety, as well as introductory remarks by Pioneer’s new Distinguished Senior Education Fellow, Tom Birmingham, and the audience question-and-answer session.