by Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
I am living proof that a support system of family, mentors and educators is critical for success and as such, have the most tremendous respect for those of you who give tirelessly of yourselves to improve the future of a child. I would like to humbly thank all of you for being heroes to so many of your students, for inspiring them in ways you probably cannot even fathom yet, and for teaching them character and personal responsibility in addition to academics. It is your example, your belief in them, along with the preparation you give them in the classroom that will unlock doors of opportunity.
I am a grandchild of a retired school teacher in the Bronx public school system of over 20 years, the son-in-law of a New York City public elementary school teacher of over 20 years, and a proud advocate for schools and the kids they serve. I have grown up hearing the stories of redemption and disappointment, of joy and pain, of success and failure about so many kids who find themselves in a system that currently works for some, but doesn’t for too many. As a Captain in the U.S. Army, just as I was when I was serving on the front lines in Afghanistan, you all are the front line soldiers in the most important battle our nation faces now, the battle to educate and prepare our next generation of leaders.
Just as we need to mobilize leaders and resources around our battles overseas, the same must be done to assist our children navigate their journeys into adulthood.
We all know the alarming statistics of low graduation and high dropout rates in our nation’s public schools by heart. And with more than 50% of marriages failing in today’s society, and single-parent households the norm in many inner-city communities, children lack the guidance that the family structure once provided. I am sure we are all alarmed that in today’s world young men of color are more likely to be in prison than in college. For too many in our nation, particularly those who live in our most precarious areas, a broken school system serves as a precursor to entry into the juvenile justice system.
But I believe this is a problem we can – and must – tackle.
Studies show that students from low-income communities can and do achieve at high levels when they are given the resources and attention they deserve. And there are amazing educators and civic leaders who are already leading the charge with impressive steam. I know the fixes aren’t simple, nor are they cheap. But there are two things to remember: The answer isn’t simply spending more money, it is to spend the money wisely with a focus on the children we intend to serve; and the costs of inaction on this issue are unbearably high, when you consider it costs nearly $200,000 to incarcerate someone in New York, and according to a recent Columbia University study cutting the dropout rate in half would yield $45 billion annually in both new federal tax revenues and cost savings.
Promising reforms that have embraced alternative teaching platforms, teacher pay systems based on performance, and the inspired $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” funds that the Obama Administration is set to allocate are tremendous, but a national embrace of innovation and policy change are imperatives.
We will need fortitude and ingenuity as we embark on the education-reform battle of our lifetime. The chance to raise expectations, the opportunity for our children to do better than their parents, and the moment to translate the experience of young students into the dreams of a nation must now drive us all. Just as it was imperative for me and my soldiers on the ground to win our fights, the same can be said for you and the work you are doing. As President Obama recently said, “The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens.” I could not agree more.
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, and promising business leader. Learn more about Wes at http://theotherwesmoore.com/