Within one preamble, seven articles, and 27 amendments, the United States Constitution protects the various rights of every American, from voting to making and selling "intoxicating liquors." But nowhere in the founding document is there mention of the guarantee of a quality education.
"Education is a fundamental right," says John Jackson IV, national director of the NAACP Education Department, "but at the federal level, there's no minimum quality of education guaranteed." The Education Department has taken on the task of reminding students, parents, school districts and governments that all public school students, urban or suburban, Black, white, Latino, Native American or Asian, are entitled to the same high standard of education.
Man on a mission
Jackson knows what it's like to persevere in the face of uneven educational resources. "I didn't come from a situation where I was always on top academically," recalls Jackson, who was educated in Chicago's public schools. Encouraged by his family and community, Jackson excelled at Xavier University in New Orleans, then at the University of Illinois, and finally at Harvard, where he earned a doctorate in education this year. While working as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration, Jackson "began to see the missing bridge between policy makers and the local level's ability to make change.
"I know there are children out there who are pregnant with potential, and someone has to labor to give birth [to it]," he says. This is the vision that brought him to the NAACP eight months ago to head the organization's education initiatives.
The mission of the Education Department is threefold prevent racial discrimination in education programs, promote academic excellence and an equal opportunity agenda."[Nationwide] 70 percent of schools are fine," Jackson says,
'Thirty percent have problems, and a large percentage of those serve minority populations."
Ground zero for the fight to equalize and improve public education is local school districts. "Ninety-three percent of resources for education are [distributed] at local and state levels," says Jackson. "The success of our children depends on our ability at those levels."
For this reason, the Education Department focuses much of its energy on strengthening local NAACP branches, students and parents in a three-part strategy of "assess, assist and advance." The Department is developing a report card system for students and parents to assess the quality of instruction and resources available in their local schools. Assistance comes in the form of national NAACP scholarship competitions and the support of branch Back to School, Stay in School programs.
The Education Department's pledge to help advance equal education on the local level is in high gear in Florida. Florida State Senator Kendrick Meek (D-Miami) is leading the effort to get an amendment to the state's constitution limiting class size on the 2002 ballot and has enlisted the support of the NAACP and other groups. …