Michelle Rhee is in town today to host a screening of the new movie “Won’t Back Down,” which is a fictionalized account of a parent takeover of a failing public school via the parent trigger law. (For information on the first real-life application of a trigger law, go here.)
Rhee will be part of a panel after the movie that her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, will moderate. Also on the panel will be state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan of Cobb, Tony Roberts of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and Tonya Moore, third-grade teacher at Stonewall Tell Elementary School.
Rhee is here because her group, StudentsFirst, is co-sponsoring the daylong Faith Leaders National Education Policy Summit in Atlanta, which will focus on the achievement gap, drop-out rates and public education policies. The co-sponsor is her husband’s nonprofit group, STAND UP for Great Schools. The movie screening and panel are part of the summit program, which is not open to the public.
Here is an op-ed by two participants in the summit, civil rights leader Lonnie C. King, Jr. of Atlanta, a founding member of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Connecticut state Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth.
By Lonnie C. King, Jr., and Charlie Stallworth
Strong public schools can transform a community. They have the power to positively affect the economic well-being, public safety, and quality of life of the families who live in them. Sadly, our communities have continuously been plagued with poor-performing schools that fail to prepare our children for higher education and the workplace.
While our country as a whole is failing to compete with the rest of the world in key subjects such as math and science, the situation is even more bleak for students of color. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, there has been no significant change in the Black-White achievement gap for 4th grade mathematics and 8th grade reading since 2005. Moreover, several studies have shown that minority students are more likely to attend lower-performing schools.
We have come too far too accept these dismal results. We can and we must do better.
Today, pastors from across the country are convening in Atlanta for the Faith Leaders National Education Policy Summit. This single-day event, hosted by STAND UP and StudentsFirst, seeks to engage and mobilize faith leaders on the education crisis facing our children and how we can unify the push for change.
In this endeavor, Stand Up has partnered with Church of God in Christ, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and other denominations to assemble influential faith leaders for this timely discussion.
Education is the civil rights issue of this generation, especially for Black America. For such a time as this, our communities need the aligned leadership of the religious community to stand together and answer the call for our children.
The church must be the driving force of this revolution.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the church was more than just a meeting place to discuss strategy – for the surrounding community, the church presented a picture of the freedom being sought. The church cultivated unity amongst members and offered encouragement to persevere in the face of opposition. Most importantly, the church provided key direction and guidance from the pulpit.
Members of the Faith community were not only among the most ardent supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, we assumed most of the leadership positions. And in doing so, faith leaders became the catalyst for eradicating discrimination and injustice in modern America. Today, our children need us more than ever. It is our duty to take on this responsibility.
With the right policies in place, we can educate every child in our communities – no matter what zip code they live in. One of those policies that would achieve this goal is Parent Trigger. Rather than being left without options, parents have the opportunity to engage directly in transforming their children’s school. Parent Trigger empowers parents to assemble, and sign a petition to turn around low-performing public schools. By granting this power to parents, low-performing schools can now be held accountable to the needs of the students, and the communities they serve.
As faith leaders, we must mobilize and employ our collective resources to their fullest potential to ensure that we’re providing all children with equality of opportunity.
We encourage faith leaders across the country to participate in this movement, and check out the STAND UP and StudentsFirst websites to learn more about how to advocate education reforms in your communities.
Parents, we urge you to contact your state legislatures and local leaders, and press them to fight for meaningful education reform measures – our children deserve better.
The future of our children is too important to continue accepting the status quo. The time is now.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog