EDITORIAL: Community is Key to Embracing School Choice

From The Birmingham News:

Does our community have the will to make sure all its children are educated properly?

Birmingham News Editor Tom Scarritt asked that question, or a variation of it, more than once of school, community and business leaders during a panel discussion Monday at The News. Everyone who responded said yes.

The same question posed in a live web chat during the “Reinventing our Community: Education” roundtable offered the following responses: Yes, of course, 14 percent. Not so sure, 36 percent. No, 50 percent.

The al.com poll obviously is not scientific, but its results may be closer to reality than what members of the panel and audience offered.

Because there is scant evidence to date that our community really is willing to do what it takes to ensure every child has the chance for a good education. That point was hammered home in the September installment of “Reinventing Our Community,” which highlighted the disparity in education across metro Birmingham’s 21 school systems, a dozen of which are in Jefferson County. Closing the achievement gap between school systems, and even schools within the same system, is one of our community’s greatest challenges — and one of its most difficult.

But it is also the challenge whose solution could yield the biggest payoff to the Birmingham area. Close, or at least narrow, the achievement gap, and more children would graduate from high school instead of drop out. The average high school graduate over a working career will earn $400,000 more than a dropout, according to Census Bureau figures. College graduates will earn almost $1.5 million more on average than high school dropouts.

Also, dropouts are twice as likely as those with a diploma to be out of work, three times more likely to be poor and eight times more likely to wind up in prison, according to the Alabama Kids Count Data Book. Dropouts have more health problems, live shorter lives and are much more likely to end up on welfare.

Taxpayers bear much of the burden created by poorly educated students, especially dropouts. That means we all pay the price when schools in our community don’t do a good job preparing our children for college and work.

For our community to have the will to make sure every child has the chance at a good education, people whose children attend schools in the best systems must care what happens to children in Birmingham, Bessemer, Fairfield and other low-performing school systems.

Monday, leaders at the panel discussion said disparities between systems can be overcome by building partnerships between schools and businesses, improving parental involvement and setting higher expectations for students.

To be sure, all of those are critically important. But much more is needed to ensure that every child has a chance at a quality education, regardless of where he is born, whether he is poor, is the product of a single-parent household, or any of the other factors that define children as at-risk.

Read more here: http://blog.al.com/birmingham-news-commentary/2011/10/our_view_our_community_has_to.html