High Quality Education = High Quality Jobs

By Morial, Marc H.; Smith, Hal | National Urban League. The State of Black America, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

High Quality Education = High Quality Jobs


Morial, Marc H., Smith, Hal, National Urban League. The State of Black America


In the United States, public education is the major common system we offer families, children, and youth for equalizing opportunity. The U.S. is fairly unique among developed nations in offering a pre-K through post-secondary system of public schools open to all students. At the same time, as a nation, we have struggled to ensure that these institutions provide equitable access and excellence to all students despite where they live or how much money their parents make. Unfortunately, too often community and family income become predictors of the kinds of educational opportunity and outcomes both individuals and communities can expect.

For the past 1OO years, the National Urban League (NUL) has been committed to racial equality through economic empowerment. Economic empowerment, in large part, depends on the ability to gain meaningful employment, which in turn is dependent on getting the high-quality education that we believe is the right of each American child.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have each rightly called education the civil rights issue of our time, and the National Urban League furthers that to say the right to a high-quality education is centrally important to America's future. This twenty-ftrst-century call for equitable education and excellence at scale extends a historical legacy. The African-American community always has recognized a highquality education as the indispensable gateway to freedom and equality in America, promising both individual advancement and community empowerment. In this view, education is the preparation and training necessary for shaping and meaningfully contributing to American political and economic life.

The collective belief in the power of education and the opportunity to bring about a more fully just present and liberating future is why enslaved Africans throughout the country defied laws prohibiting their education and found ways to teach their children to read and write. It is why self-taught civil rights leader, Frederick Douglas, once said, "[NJo greater benefit can be bestowed upon a long benighted people than giving to them...the means to an education."1 It is why during Reconstruction, in the face of segregation, Jim and Jane Crow laws, intimidation, and violence, African Americans established educational institutions, investments, and principles that endure to this day.

What Frederick Douglas and so many before and after him have known is that emancipation without education is an empty promise and can hardly be considered a full and complete freedom. Today, as African Americans struggle to emancipate themselves from the tightest grip of the Great Recession- while the nation grapples anew with notions of equity and fairness, access to a high-quality education is not only a civil rights issue, it is clearly a jobs issue.

Right now, our country faces an employment crisis, the likes of which has not been seen by many Americans since the Great Depression but for decades has been felt acutely and disproportionately in communities of color. The Urban League has been at the vanguard of the struggle for economic parity and equitable access to educational and employment opportunity for its entire history and is concerned about the efficacy and utility of current approaches that lack a full consideration of historic trends and impacts. African Americans are often the first to feel the negative effects of an economic crisis and are too often the last to benefit from economic recovery. Therefore, what we are calling for is a far more nuanced and comprehensive approach to employment and economics that places education at the strategic and functional heart of reform.

As illustrated by NUL's over IOO years of experience in providing education and workforce development services through our network of 98 affiliates in 36 states, we believe that educational opportunity is the most significant means for communities of color and underserved communities to empower themselves and their families. …

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