Voting is Key to Education Reform

Education—the answer to many of the problems ailing our country—is getting the least amount of attention from the candidates on the presidential campaign trail.

According to a November 2015 Gallup poll, only 4% of Americans consider education or education policy to be the most important problem facing our nation. Respondents instead cited the economy, poorly run government, immigration, gun control and health care of most concern. While I agree that these are important issues, we at 100 Black Men of America, Inc. (The 100) believe that without a quality education, many young people, particularly African-Americans, will be condemned to lives of poverty, incarceration and despair.

As a nonprofit mentoring organization, the education of our youth is one of our top concerns. Schools with caring and nurturing environments, high-performing teachers, rigorous curriculum and the proper materials and technology are some of the key ingredients to preparing our kids to successfully graduate high school, handle college-level coursework without requiring remediation, compete in global marketplace and become productive members of society. In our advocacy work, The 100 has sought to raise public awareness about the need to reform our nation’s education system, especially in predominately African-American and low-income communities where far too many of the schools are failing our children. We are working to ensure that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to high-performing schools.

How we get there is the real question. One answer is by voting. When we go to the polls in November, it isn’t just to elect the next president. We will have the opportunity to use our voting power to make important decisions about our children’s education. In some states, for example, voters will be asked to decide whether to turn the operational and decision-making control of failing schools in their communities over to their state governments. Others will be asked whether more charter public schools should be opened in their communities to provide families with an alternative to traditional public schools. Still others will be asked how money raised through state lotteries, property and sales taxes and state and federal allocations should be used to support education initiatives.

As voters, we are facing some tough choices. Many of our local public schools are struggling and some even failing, but is a state government takeover the answer? There has been a decades-long imbalance in the distribution of educational quality and opportunity due, in part, to how public schools are funded, but will proposed funding formula changes address those inequities and produce successful outcomes? If we allow more charter schools, will that irreversibly damage our traditional public schools or will the competition make both stronger?

What will become of the children and schools in our communities depends largely on the actions we take as voters. Elections at both the federal and local level—from the school board to the statehouse and from the assembly to the White House—are vitally important. We need to be talking about education in our households and at PTA meetings, in our barber shops and coffeehouses and in our workplaces and houses of worship.

But transformation doesn’t come by talk alone. We also must take decisive action. We can start by increasing our knowledge of the issues, committing to exercise our right to vote, encouraging others in our communities to do the same and then casting ballots for candidates for whom education and the academic success of our children are top priorities.

The choice and the vote is ours.

Brian L. Pauling is national president and CEO of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.


Our Students Deserve to Succeed


There are three key supports needed to achieve student success: home, school and community.

We expect quite a bit from our future leaders, but I have asked myself the question that I now pose to you: “What should public school students expect from us—home, school and community—during this academic year?”

As parents, teachers, administrators and community members, we must operate as a cohesive and collaborative support system to help students excel. They shouldn’t have to do it alone.

We should hold ourselves and each other accountable for our critical role in ensuring students succeed and achieve the desired outcome of “ready by exit.” Ready by exit means regardless of the grade level, our students have learned the information for that grade level and are ready to advance without remediation by the end of the school year.

There are many ways we can actively engage or increase our engagement in our children’s education. We can ensure that students get enough sleep, arrive at school on time and have safe afterschool care; join and participate in the parent teacher association (PTA); help with their homework, or find someone else, such as a student in a higher grade or a college student, who can help.

Organizations like 100 Black Men, Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA/YWCA have tutorial programs. Our active participation shows our children that their education is important and demonstrates our expectation that they excel. Parents can discover new and interesting things about our children, their schools, teachers and friends as we spend more time with our children.

Teachers and Administrators
We must provide more classrooms and school environments that breed and encourage:

  • Lasting success
  • Compelling, relevant and challenging curricula
  • Innovative teachers and teaching practices
  • Inviting school climates with solid anti-bullying policies and practices
  • Data-driven improvement plans and intervention strategies
  • Varied extracurricular activities

We must believe that all children can learn at high levels. Beyond us believing it, however, we must also help our children believe it because so many have been convinced that they can’t.

We must support our students, parents, teachers and administrators by building relationships with them. Here’s how:

Stop by a local school and find out how you can make a difference.

  • Become a partner with a local school and offer your services or the expertise and resources of your business or organization.
  • Serve on a local school council.
  • Get involved as a tutor, mentor, guest speaker or member of the booster club or PTA.

Our students are more than capable of doing the work! However, we must give them access to educational opportunities that equip them to be competitive; remove the obstacles hindering their progress; set high achievement expectations and provide support structures that contribute to their ability to succeed.

100 Black Men of America, Inc. and its like-minded collaborative partners invite you to join the collective efforts for systemic and sustainable education reform. It is our responsibility to raise our collective voices in advocacy and take action so that high-performing public schools and students in our communities become the norm rather than the exception. Our students deserve to succeed!

Brian L. Pauling is the national president and CEO of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.