The next lurch forward

By Lisa Macfarlane

Last week, NPR profiled Robert Moses, one of America’s most courageous civil rights leaders. In the early 1960’s, Moses organized Mississippi sharecroppers to fight for the right to vote, helping to shape the civil rights movement in the South. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Moses left the US and taught secondary school in Tanzania, returning in the mid ’70s and eventually settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While in Cambridge, Moses started to see the disparities in the educational offerings between schools in low and high-income areas and decided to do something about it. So in 1982, Moses used a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award to start the Algebra Project, a nonprofit working with low-scoring math students to prepare them for college-level math courses. The Algebra Project has since expanded to more than 200 schools, and also provides professional development to math teachers across the nation. Moses’ organization is clearly an extension of his lifelong campaign to extend civil rights and freedom to the poor and disenfranchised.

The Algebra Project emerged from Robert Moses’ belief that civic equality is rooted in educational equity. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of civil rights leaders like Moses and education reformers across the country there are still too many kids of color that are not receiving the education they deserve.

Take Washington state, for example. In our state, only 54.6 percent of black high school students passed the End of Course Math 2 Assessment during the 2010-11 school year, compared to the state average of 79.1 percent. Talk about a modern version of Jim Crow.

Like Moses, I believe that access to a high-quality education is a civil right. In order to move forward as a nation, we need to ensure that all of our kids, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, are academically challenged and prepared for the future.

Moses could not have said it better: “The next lurch forward in civil rights is that every child in America gets a quality public education and that our nation’s promise of freedom continues.”

Lisa Macfarlane is the Washington State Director for Democrats for Education Reform and co-founder of the League of Education Voters. This post originally appeared on the Washington Democrats for Education Reform blog.


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  1. Melissa Westbrook August 5, 2013

    I agree with much of this. But my confusion – sincerely – is this use of the phrase “civil right.”

    You see that phrase used for ed reform, quality public education, charter choice, et al.

    It’s hard to fight out what it is that people want to see happen especially using a very important (and loaded) phrase that means much to everyone in this country.


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