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Quality Education as a Constitutionally Protected Right and the Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Symposium



The devastating crisis in the education of poor children and children of color only promises to deepen unless something is done.  According to the Urban Institute, approximately 50% of black ninth graders, 49% of Native Americans, and 47% of Latinos/as do not graduate in four (4) years.  In some poor urban and rural areas, high school dropout rates approach 80%.  Among those who stay in school, a significant number of students of color are testing at "below basic" levels of competency in reading and math.  It is further important to observe that the National Assessment of Educational Progress has determined that approximately 43% of black 12th graders and 58% of Latinos/as are testing at "below basic".  Black children are three (3) times as likely to be labeled mentally retarded as whites, twice as likely to be labeled emotionally disturbed, and more often isolated in separate classrooms as a result.  Poor students of color have less access to credentialed and experienced teachers, high quality curriculum, materials, tools, after-school and summer programs, and advanced level courses. 

What may prove to be even more alarming, is that this crisis in public education runs directly paralleled to a ballooning Prison Industrial Complex.  The United States now incarcerates a record 2.1 million of its citizens which is more than any other nation in the world.  Although youth crime has steadily decreased over the past ten (10) years, youth incarceration rates have been rising.  With increased police presence in public schools and more state laws mandating the referral of children to law enforcement authorities for school code violations, many can clearly see a direct link between failing schools and an overflowing prison population. 

The Algebra Project has earned a credential to challenge this country's lack of a national education policy for quality public school education for every child, because of its pioneering work in "Sharecropper Schools" during the 1960s.  Thus, at its 2004 board meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, a subcommittee consisting of Danny Glover, Jessy Fernandez, Jessie Cooper-Gibbs, Staffas Broussard, Ed Dubinsky and Bob Moses began taking steps to launch a national conversation about the issue.  It was also historically fitting that during this meeting, the first local forum for quality public school education as a civil and constitutional right was also being held in New Orleans.             

Following its early conversations, the Algebra Project was able to pull together an initial network of academicians, researchers, public officials, educational activists, school administrators, teachers, parent groups and youth organizations to convene its first national conversation network at Howard University on March 11-12, 2005.  The goals of this meeting included: 1) starting a series of national conversations to insure increased understanding of the current crisis in public education for poor students of color; 2) establishing a collection of local initiatives, programs and ideas to address the crisis; and 3) engaging a national campaign calling for quality public school education as an enforceable right.  The Southern University A & M College System (SUS) and the Southern University Law Center (SULC) have joined the conversation by presenting this symposium.