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May 14, 2014
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JP O'Hare

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SED Commissioner King: Segregation and Inequality Persist;

Urges Communities of Color to Demand Accountability and Better Schools

Sixty years after the historic Supreme Court decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that declared segregation in public education unconstitutional, many of New York State’s schoolchildren of color remain isolated in lower-performing schools, according to State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. In a speech at Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, King called on communities of color to demand better schools that are accountable for helping all students learn. This Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of the Court’s decision.

“[I]f we don’t hold ourselves accountable – and if we don’t demand transparency around student achievement – and if we don’t challenge ourselves to give our kids the very best education possible… The adults won’t lose… Only the children will lose.” King said.

King, the first African-American and first Puerto Rican Commissioner of Education in New York, pointed out that, in New York State:

  • Just 58 percent of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school compared to 86 percent of White students;
  • Just 15 percent of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school ready to do college-level coursework compared to nearly 50 percent of White students; and
  • On both national and state tests of English Language Arts and Math, the percentage of African-American and Latino students performing at proficiency is about half that of White students.

Assemblymember Karim Camara, chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, introduced King at the event.

King called on legislators, civil rights leaders and communities of color to speak out in favor of higher standards for teaching and learning. King warned that many of the voices attacking higher standards “have done so with false narratives” and would “deny us the talents of all Americans – talents that are desperately needed to keep America strong and growing in this new century.”

King outlined an ambitious opportunity agenda for New York schools to move the state toward the vision of Brown v. Board of Education:

  • Continue the hard work of raising standards for teaching and learning to ensure all students – regardless of race, zip code, or family economic status – receive the excellent effective education necessary for success in college, careers, and life.
  • Restructure school funding formulas to promote greater equity, and continue to increase the State’s investment in early learning.
  • Foster greater socioeconomic and racial integration by establishing magnet secondary schools serving multiple districts, redrawing school boundaries within districts, and changing district-level enrollment policies.
  • Provide greater supports to our English Language Learners, invest in bilingual education, and pass the New York State Dream Act so that undocumented students can go to college.
  • Raise college completion rates by building in more supports for low-income students through investments in the opportunity programs at SUNY, CUNY, and in the independent sector.

King added, “We cannot stand by while inequality persists. We cannot ignore the staggering differences in educational outcomes among our children of different races and backgrounds. That’s not America. We are one people, one society, and one nation and when we raise our voices together in pursuit of our common values we can produce a sound that is greater than all of those voices of fear, defeat and retreat.”

Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League, praised King's call to action.

"We must work to fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education," Rice said. "High standards and accountability will help us better ensure that all students can have the educational opportunity they deserve."

Commissioner King's prepared remarks are available here

A recorded video of the speech is available here