Preface By the Reverend Floyd H. Flake, D.Min.
This report contains clear-cut, statistical proof of something that many of us have known in our hearts for years: far too many of our public schools are utterly failing to give poor and minority children the education they need if they are to have a chance to succeed in the 21st Century.
It is time we face these facts -- and then do something about them.
Our children are our society's greatest asset; they are our entire future. There will be no prosperous and secure future for any of us, rich or poor, unless we provide a good start for all our children.
We all know this. Yet knowing it, how can we tolerate the results documented in this report?
It shows that New York is operating a separate and unequal system of high-minority public schools that leave tens of thousands of our children handicapped with a poor foundation in reading – the first and most fundamental of the three R's. Almost 90 percent of children in predominantly white public schools are meeting minimum readings standards in the third grade. Yet nearly half of those in high-minority public schools do not do so.
Read through the school-by-school tables in Appendix I, and you will see school after school after high-minority school in which only one-tenth or less of the sixth-graders are reading well enough to comprehend standard sixth-grade textbooks.
There is no need to tolerate or accept this outrageous failure. For as this study also makes clear, we can do better. Around New York State, some high-minority schools, both public and non-public, are doing much better. Increasingly, new research is documenting the best ways of teaching reading to the kids who are most at risk. We need the rest of the schools to stop making excuses for their failures – and start matching the results of those schools that do succeed.
How do we make this happen? In my view, the most important first step is for communities– and especially the African-American community – to let it be known that we will no longer tolerate a bureaucratic school system that entrenches failure and provides job protection for adults, at the expense of jeopardizing our children's future.
I know from my own experience that in our community there is a great hunger for schools that work. When I became the pastor at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens, we opened a church school to provide a focused, disciplined alternative to the public schools for students in their first eight years. Today, the children who attend that school not only learn how to read, they learn a second language, learn how to use computers, and test so well that private schools recruit them for their secondary education. My one regret is that because of the limited openings in the school, we receive far more applications than we can accommodate– concrete proof of how eager the parents of our community are to secure a better education for their children.
Those responsible for our public education system must decide how they will respond to this need. Some are devoting all their energy to fighting proposals for vouchers, which would enable children in failing public schools to escape to private or parochial schools. It is as though these officials believe they have a right to force minority kids to stay in schools that are not educating them. Instead of fighting vouchers, they should be fighting to make the public schools do their job. Vouchers may not solve all of the problems, but they at least give hope to many beleaguered children and parents, while providing wholesome competition to the public system -- forcing it to expedite necessary reforms that guarantee every child a good education.
It is shameful to leave such a large group of children so far behind. And if we continue to do so, we cannot expect America to remain a competitive nation. Every child is born with wondrous potential, but must be challenged to reach it. We have been stifling that potential for far too long.
The Reverend Floyd H. Flake is pastor of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens, a dynamic ministry with a congregation of more than 9,000. The church operates a school, a housing program, a multiple-purpose community and health center, and numerous other enterprises in support of the needs of its community. Rev. Flake also served from 1987 until 1997 representing the 6th District of New York in the United States House of Representatives; he retired to devote full time to his church.
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