(The Root) — On Wednesday the NAACP released a plan for ensuring that all children, including those who are black, brown or poor, can achieve their full potential in education.
Oh, no, not another report about inequity by a civil rights organization, you say?
That was the initial reaction of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, according to NAACP president Benjamin Jealous. Jealous unveiled the plan at a Washington, D.C., press conference attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; former education secretary and South Carolina Gov. Dick Riley; James Cicconi of AT&T; Ana Garcia-Ashley of Gamaliel; and Gen. Powell's wife, Alma, who is the chair of America's Promise. Jealous had approached the retired general for his family's support of the NAACP's new education-reform plan.
" 'Our family doesn't want any more part of studies or reports,' " said Gen. Powell, according to Jealous. " 'We just want to be part of giving people orders to do work and get it done. Set down the roadmap, say what the play is. We don't have time. We've studied the problem, we know what it is.' "
Contained in the report "Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America's Children," the NAACP's roadmap urges reform in the following four areas: prekindergarten preparation, effective teaching, time for learning and targeted spending.
Proposed solutions include sending additional resources to districts with high concentrations of low-income students; investing in early childhood-education programs; adopting policies for recruiting and keeping high-quality teachers and principals in high-need schools; and supporting student-centered enrichment that extends beyond the regular school day and year.
"We spent two years researching what makes the best schools," explained Jealous, "because we know if we do that … then every kid gets a great education."
Right now, it's clear that every kid is not getting a great education. As the NAACP points out in "Finding Our Way," the United States, once first, is now 21st among industrialized nations in its high-school graduation rate, and nearly 87 percent of African-American and 84 percent of Latino eighth graders perform below proficient in reading, compared with nearly 70 percent of American students overall.
The NAACP's approach to solving that problem will represent a shift in the focus of its efforts to influence national education policy, from the courts to the statehouses, said Jealous. "What these four reforms represent is four big legislative goals for the association," he explained. "In our first century, the battle was primarily about federal litigation [e.g. Brown v. Board of Education]. In our second century the battle is increasingly about state and county legislation."
Speaking of shifts in focus, we asked Secretary Duncan what's going to be different about education policy during President Obama's second term, especially with respect to closing the achievement gap. Based on his response, don't expect any major changes in approach. "We're going to continue to push very hard at every level," Duncan told The Root. "It's not about left turns; we want to stay focused."
Then he laid out the following game plan: "We want to continue to invest heavily in early child education. You saw us in the first [Obama] term do $600 million, and our department sort of hadn't done anything there — huge leadership by the president there.
"We want to continue to push very hard on the K-12 reform agenda, and see states implement higher standards, which is hugely important. Then we have to make college more accessible and affordable, so I'm obviously so proud that we had the additional $40 billion in Pell Grants in the first term — without going back to taxpayers for a nickel. But the cost of college is still a tremendous burden, not just for disadvantaged communities, but for middle-class families.
"So it has to be a cradle-to-career agenda, and we have to educate our way to a better economy."
The NAACP's report, "Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America's Children," can be read here.
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is managing editor of The Root.
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.