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Nation needs to celebrate and support ‘publicness’ of public education

Former HUD Ethnic minority leaders discuss importance of public education for communities of color


NEW ORLEANS - July 03, 2010 -

Hundreds of teachers and education support professionals from across the nation joined scholars, authors, policy experts and elected officials from the ethnic minority community to discuss the issues of race, education and culture in America. The panel, The Emerging Majority: A Paradigm Shift, was hosted by the National Education Association’s Office of Minority Community Outreach as part of NEA’s 148th Annual Meeting and 89th Representative Assembly in New Orleans. 

Speaking to the audience prior to the panel discussion, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said NEA members are committed to challenging the status quo and becoming agents of change. He announced a new partnership with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., to provide mentoring for NEA’s Priority Schools program.  He was joined by Kappa Alpha Psi Grand Polemarch Dwayne M. Murray for the announcement.

Syndicated television show Judge Glenda Hatchett moderated the panel discussion that included former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Henry Cisneros, Rainbow/PUSH founder Rev. Jesse Jackson, CBS News Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kaufman, and Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. The lively and provocative discussion covered a range of topics, including achievement gaps, the dropout rate in minority communities and school funding.

Former HUD Secretary Cisneros told educators that the education of students of color is the key to America’s future.  U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate that by the year 2050, half of the growth in the U.S. population will be among Latinos, he said.  “If we don’t address education gaps for minorities in the United States—Latinos included—the United States will not be able to compete with China, India, and other nations in the emerging global economy.” 

The Asian American Justice Center’s Narasaki expressed concern about standardized tests and how poorly they measure the knowledge of English language learner students. Schools are becoming so afraid of being penalized for low test scores among English language learners, she said, that those students are quietly being pushed out.  “It can’t be the nation’s goal to get rid of all the students who don’t test well,” Narasaki said.  “Aren’t we supposed to educate those kids as well?” she asked. 

The panelists all agreed that significantly more parental engagement is essential to raising student achievement. Narasaki and Cisneros pushed for more programs for parents to learn how to be involved in their children’s education and how to be better parents. 

Panelists also discussed the importance of equal funding so that all children have access to quality public schools, regardless of family income or geography. CBS News correspondent Kaufman pointed out the severity of state budget crises are forcing drastic cuts in education programs and personnel.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said America must have the will to do what is right. “We have created a whole priority structure that’s just wrong,” he told educators. “We can’t expect all kids to race to the top; some of them must be lifted from the bottom first.”  

Cisneros said the nation must celebrate and support what he called the “publicness” of public education.  America needs public education, he said. “It is the engine by which we create a middle class; it is the engine by which we create upward mobility. It is an engine that has proven itself by creating judges, Nobel Prize winners, and university presidents.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: René Carter  (202) 422-7948, rcarter@nea.org