Equal access to high-quality education is key to children's, city's future

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National Black Child Development Institute president and CEO Felicia DeHaney and Tamara Carpenter, VP of School Development of K-12 Inc., participate in a panel discussion on education policy and reform at the recent NUF 360: An Evolution of Leadership in Action conference.

Earlier this month, as a member of the National Urban Fellows class, I had an opportunity to attend the leadership conference NUF 360 An Evolution of Leadership in Action.

The conference’s purpose was to take an in-depth look at issues facing leaders today, particularly as it relates to social justice. We participated in discussions about critical national policy issues including health and education.

I was chiefly interested in the discussion surrounding education policy and reform, as it is one of the central issues we tackle here at The Skillman Foundation. The panel discussed nationwide challenges in secondary education, particularly problems that persist among communities of color and how best to address them. For me, the discussion reinforced the importance of the work the Foundation and its partners do surrounding education in Detroit.

This month, as we celebrate the contributions and rich history of African Americans in our country during Black History Month, I am reminded of the civil rights movement and the fight for social justice, not only in the South but also in major cities across the country, including Detroit.

As it was then, access to high-quality education is still one of the most important social justice issues we face as a nation and why I see the Foundation’s work on behalf of children in this city as critical.

While there has been some incremental improvement, educational achievement gaps are still overwhelmingly high. Just this week, the most recent results for the Michigan Educational Achievement Program (MEAP) were released. Math scores were particularly alarming with only 9% of Detroit eighth-graders meeting or exceeding standards.

In a statement addressing the results, Skillman Foundation grantee Education Trust-Midwest said: “They show that Michigan continues to have among the widest and most persistent achievement gaps in the nation, leaving many low-income, African American and Latino students behind.”

It is an issue that must be addressed now in order for children to graduate with an equal footing in the world and have a stake in shaping Detroit for the future.

In his speech to Detroiters in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “… And so this social revolution taking place can be summarized in three little words. They are not big words. One does not need an extensive vocabulary to understand them. They are the words ‘all,’ ‘here’ and ‘now.’ We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now … realizing that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As Dr. King said, the time to fight for social justice is always NOW. We must continue to address the injustice of inadequate education by developing real solutions to advance student success.

The debate over education reform and student achievement has been a national concern for decades, and we cannot afford to go backward. Working to reform the way we deliver education to the children of this city is vital. In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama highlighted the need to update curriculum to “better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.” This work is starting here in Detroit. Blended learning models are emerging to create a new educational path for Detroit children, and the city has real potential to grow and become a genuine blended learning network by 2020. 

I am receiving a master’s class at the Foundation engaging and interacting with people who are working tirelessly everyday, and I continue to be grateful that I was the NUF Fellow chosen by The Skillman Foundation to complete my mentorship.

-- Jessica Martin is a National Urban Fellow and the Foundation's Special Assistant, Communications.

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