From the Death Penalty Information Center, we present to you facts about the Death Penalty including the number of executions, race of victims, recent studies, innocence, executions by state, financial statistics, as well as much more.
From the Death Penalty Information Center, we present to you facts about the Death Penalty including the number of executions, race of victims, recent studies, innocence, executions by state, financial statistics, as well as much more.
I am grateful to Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, Representative of Venezuela to the Organization of American States (OAS), for inviting me to address representatives of the OAS’s member nations to implore you to action on Reparatory Justice as a human rights policy and as a moral democratic imperative.
I thank all of you for the opportunity given this afternoon by the Organization of American States to present my thoughts on the issue of Reparatory Justice.
As I sit among the ambassadors of sovereign states of the Americas the memory of my Mother is with me. Her Paternal grandmother was born in 1853 and was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the U.S. in 1863. I have every reason to feel they would view this occasion to represent Reparatory Justice at the OAS as very important! As a young actor in San Francisco, California trying to find my voice and make a living in my chosen profession, I would often stop by mother’s work place. She worked hard at her Job for the United States postal Office for more than thirty years. But the warmth of her generous smile and faith was always encouraging. Of course she would want me to meet her fellow workers, for no other reason than to tell them that, “my son is an “Actor”, which she took great pride in stating. When asked what I had done, which had been very little at the time, she would say: “he hasn’t done anything yet, but one day he will do something important!” I believe that as she smiles on me today, my presence here speaking before the distinguished members of the OAS, qualifies as an example of what she meant by ‘important’.
When Ambassador Alvarez first requested that I speak to the OAS about Reparatory Justice, I recalled many fruitful exchanges that I had with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez about the historical plight of Afro Descendants in our hemisphere. We talked about the heroism and invaluable contributions made by people of African descent to the founding and development of Republics throughout the Americas. Shortly after we began our first meeting, President Chavez spoke about his own African ancestry. Without prompting, he reflected critically that racial equity had not been as central to Venezuela’s affirmative action policy considerations as it should have been in its 1999 Constitution; that Afro-Venezuelans had been largely excluded from its various initiatives. As he addressed the TransAfrica Forum Board members who accompanied me, he looked to his staff and, without hesitation, concluded that Venezuela needed to rectify its failure to spefificallyaddress race in public policy and to earnestly collaborate with Afro-Venezuelans to improve their lives and to advance their capacities to contribute to national development. Political leaders across our continent should be moved as he was to initiate projects of reparatory justice with their citizens of African descent.
I have had similar positive exchanges with several global political leaders about the crimes against humanity committed against Africans during the European-Atlantic Slave Trade, and about the subsequent institutionalization of racism against Afro Descendants that persists to the present. Included among the political leaders with whom I have discussed the imperative of achieving restorative justice for people of African descent are the late South African President Nelson Mandela, former Brazilian President Lula Da Silva, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an eloquent and persuasive advocate for Reparatory Justice, and Congressman John Conyers, author of U.S. Congressional House of Representative Bill H.R. 40 for a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. In November 2016, I also met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Havana to discuss the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent.
Reflecting on those past positive encounters, I am especially heartened by the recent establishment of the U.S. National African American Commission (NAARC) and I support its call for President Obama to appoint a John Hope Franklin Commission on Reparatory Justice before he leaves office. I note with satisfaction the emergence of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, chaired by the Caribbean’s most eminent public intellectual, Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles, and I applaud CARICOM’s call on the former European slaveholding nations to step up and help repair the devastation wrought on the Caribbean region by hundreds of years of slavery and colonialism. Moreover, I applaud the strong support for CARICOM’s claims that have been voiced unanimously by the member nations of CELAC and ALBA and I call on the OAS to add its influential voice in support of CARICOM’s reparatory justice program. Latin America, Canada, and the United States must now take the next step in continent wide Human Rights and justice policies and initiate reparatory justice discussions and policies with their citizens of African descent.
This is a momentous occasion for me and for hundreds of millions of Afro Descendants to address an august body that represents all of the countries of the Americas. Of the nearly one billion citizens of the Americas, approximately 200 million are Afro Descendants, the progeny of enslaved Africans who were forced, without compensation, to contribute their intellectual and physical labor for the enrichment of European settler colonies. For centuries, the nations those colonies produced physically and psychologically exploited Afro Descendants and Native peoples through the brutal inhumanity of rape, incarceration, and murder. This uncomfortable shared history of Afro Descendants in the Americas belongs to all of us as citizens of American Continental Republics. It has unfolded over the centuries and, despite heroic democratic advances, has given rise to structural, economic, social, and cultural racism, leaving behind a legacy of broad discrimination against Afro Descendants in the Americas for the 21st century. This discrimination often takes the forms of disproportionate poverty, disease, lack of educational opportunity, massive incarceration, rampant sexual exploitation, and inadequate participation in political decision-making.
Through my travels and ongoing communication with people of African descent throughout the hemisphere, I am aware that some nations have been more progressive and productive than others in acknowledging slavery as a crime against humanity and in implementing public policies to eradicate the scourge of injustice of persistent racism and discrimination in our societies. Nevertheless, we are still confronted by the harsh realities of life for Afro Descendants in the Americas, the majority of whom live among the culturally diverse populations in the Caribbean and Latin America, comprising 30% or more of that region’s population yet accounting for more than half of its identified poor.
In my country, the United States of America, which is the richest and arguably most developed country of the world, there are forty-million Afro Descendants, many of Caribbean and Latin American heritage. On a daily basis, U.S. news is inundated with disturbing and saddening stories of Black women and men, particularly the young, being killed by law enforcement officers and vigilantes or being incarcerated; of young black people facing high rates of under and unemployment, poverty, lack of access to education and health care, and consequently succumbing to high rates of illness and death. The current state of democracy, justice, and socio-economic development for Afro Descendants in the United States is disappointing and tragic. Sadly, these negative social and political indicators characterize and link the lives and justice struggles of the majority of people of African descent throughout the Americas despite significant national, cultural, linguistic, political, ideological, religious, and economic differences.
Rich and diverse historical legacies of struggles for freedom, justice, equality, and development have propelled Afro Descendants over the centuries to act in solidarity across national identities. I am but one Afro Descendant within a long and continuous historical tradition of advocacy for people of African descent who have sought to enlist the support of national and multilateral policy organizations to achieve reparatory justice.
Those of you who are students of history will know that news of the 1804 Haitian Revolution, a successful revolt against slavery and oppression by French colonialists, spread widely among enslaved Afro Descendant populations throughout the Americas, highlighting their common plight against the terror and the inhumanity of colonialism, enslavement and racism, You would be among the educated few who know that Haiti not only represented a victorious organic revolt from the lowest sectors of society, but that it also inspired subsequent struggles in Latin America that gave rise to a group of new independent Caribbean and Latin American nations that emerged by ousting their European colonizers. The Haitian Revolution was a watershed moment in history that many citizens in the Americas have not always celebrated, and it harkens to a history of Africans rebelling against slavery in the Americas that continues until today.
The historical recognition, cultural affinity, and political development projects of people of African descent in the Americas achieved a major victory toward democratic inclusion by planning, coordinating, and organizing their attendance and participation at the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism, Intolerance and Other Forms of Discrimination in Durban, South Africa. In fact, the term “Afro Descendant” was formulated and gained widespread currency in policymaking circles at the 2000 Preparatory conference for Durban which was held in Santiago, Chile. Hundreds of people of African descent from across the Americas gathered in Santiago, speaking Spanish, English, Creoles, French, practitioners of various African religions as well as of Christianity, to advocate for diverse ideals that encompassed Pan Africanism, capitalism, and socialism. Diverse in their nationalities and their cultural expressions, but still united in a common struggle for human rights, they recognized their shared interest in counteracting the structural racism and discrimination that began with the trans-Atlantic slave trade and that produced populations now called Afro Brazilians, Palenqueros and Raizales of Colombia, Haitians, Afro Cubans, mulattos, and a host of other identity designations. The planning delegates in Santiago coined the term Afro Descendant to give form to their policy proposals and demands to State-government representatives who would convene the following year at the United Nation Durban World Conference against Racism.
This, honorable lady and gentlemen representatives of the Organization of American States, is “Our America.” An America that far too many of our citizens and policy makers, including heads of State, refuse to fully acknowledge and fail to engage with as a democratic mandate to deliver justice, equality, and equitable national and regional development.
You might reasonably inquire, why I, Danny Glover, wellknown citizen-artist of the United States, have come to speak to the OAS about Reparatory Justice. I come to you today with full and proud recognition and embrace of the fact that I am a descendant of enslaved Africans who were transported, against their will, to the so called “New World.” That unprecedented global project of European colonial expansion through the pillage, rape, and genocide of Native Peoples shaped the nations and humanity we have become today. My maternal grandmother…..From that family history and Legacy of resistance and transformation, I am one of the not so many Afro Descendants who have been relatively successful out of the roughly 200 million Afro Descendants in our American hemisphere, who, with the help of less fortunate Afro Descendant family members and communities were educated about the histories and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora in the creation of American colonies and American Republics. Through this education, I was guided to form connections with my Afro Descendants sisters and brothers across this continent, from Canada to Uruguay and everywhere in between. I am also happily married to an Afro Brazilian woman.
It is true that some Afro Descendants have like me been relatively successful against great historical odds and the contemporary challenges of structural racism, which casts a long shadow across class lines and individual achievement for most people of African descent. I have been fortunate to be counseled and supported by women and men of African Descent across the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe who today continue to live their lives as social-individuals, connected to the cultural legacies and daily life struggles and accomplishments of ordinary citizens. So I am one of the public messengers of those histories of struggle and of current demands to you today for Reparatory Justice for Afro Descendants. I speak to you in the spirit of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, the great 20th Century Afro Descendant Father of U.S. sociology, Pan-African social justice activism, and founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People:
“I am bone of bone and flesh of flesh of them that live within the Veil”.
“Living within the Veil” is a haunting metaphor that speaks to the partitioned and concealed world of black-skinned humanity; a humanity lived by hundreds of millions of Afro Descendants in our hemisphere, 40 million in the U.S. alone, that is invisible and inaudible to so many but that is vibrant and complex for us who, with pride and dignity, proclaim universal human rights and justice for all. At the national level, we generally fall far short of public apology and provision of just recompense to the millions of Afro descendants still hemmed in by structural racism and systemic economic inequality, – descendants of enslaved ancestors who built great towns, cities, countries, and provided luxuries that so many of us enjoy today.
A 2016 article published by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, “Forging Equitable Communities: Creating Structures of Opportunity”, by Gary L. Cunningham, President and CEO of Metropolitan Economic Development Association of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota concluded that, “the majority of African-American people still live wrapped up, largely out of sight, in the vicissitudes of poverty.” He goes on to say that, “When the fundamental opportunity structures go unchallenged, the living conditions of low-income African-American people remain the same.” My direct experience with Afro Descendant and indigenous communities within the United States and with communities throughout this hemisphere, without exception, is that Cunningham’s description of the U.S. holds true for all of our continent. The majority of Afro Descendants and Indigenous peoples still live wrapped up, largely out of sight, in the vicissitudes of poverty and the opportunity structures in our societies have not been sufficiently or consistently responsive.
I speak to you as one of many social-individuals who works in collaboration with, not for, the millions who are still behind the contemporary veils of poverty, exclusion, incarceration, discrimination, and of official displacement and violence. I call upon you today as policy representatives and socially conscious citizens and as public servants of our countries who are guided by personal ethics, religious faith, and official oath of office, to avow a commitment to democracy, justice, equality, and human rights.
The call today for Reparatory Justice for Afro Descendants is an imperative for expanded democracy and spiritual and material wellbeing. It is a test-case of human decency that conforms to accepted standards of morality. The call for Reparatory Justice is a marker of the outstanding balance on atonement, and adjudication of our past wrongs and current barriers against fellow citizens who continue to be shut out, marginalized, and discriminated against. The negative consequences of inattention or of insufficient attention to the legitimate demands of Afro Descendants in all of our societies for official national apologies for recognition of enslavement of Africans as a historically significant Crime against Humanity requires serious reflection and emotional, psychological, and material repair. The case of Reparatory Justice must be formulated and implemented in collaboration with Afro Descendants as they proactively envision and construct their futures as full citizens with both self-interests and common interests with other citizens, not as immobilized, pitiful victims.
Official recognition by public policy makers of the absence or inadequacy of policies to overcome inhumane negative racialized circumstances in which most of Afro Descendants live today is a major step towards positive public ownership, not guilt for the past. It is a pathway to lifting the veil of ignorance, frustration, intolerance, and inaction that divides so many among all of our communities.
I speak to you today as a citizen-artist of the United States and as an official Ambassador of Good Will for the United Nations International Decade for Afro Descendants. The justification for the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, Development issued by the global community of nations succinctly states:
“In proclaiming this Decade, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside the African continent.”
I highlight the phrase recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected, not to separate them from fellow citizens of other racial, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds. I highlight that phrase to draw special attention to the distinct concerns of Afro Descendants and of Indigenous peoples who have and continue to suffer racial and skin-color discrimination as well as the related cultural and economic inequities in our societies and governance systems. My colleague, James Early, a long time participant in social justice struggles with Afro Descendants across our Americas, has criticized some representatives in the Americas for, “cavalierly rejecting the terminology Afro Descendant” positing in confutation that, “we all are Afro Descendants because Africa is the cradle of civilization.” I agree that such responses are, to say the least, inconsiderate of the widespread color coded racial discrimination documented both by historical claims by Afro Descendants across our hemisphere in all countries, and in stark contrast to current official documentation done by multilateral bodies like the United Nations and the OAS.
In regards to the significance of Reparatory Justice as a foundational element of public and regional policy in the Americas, I especially recommend to members of the OAS the guidanceexpressed by United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon who says:
“We must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism. Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education”.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s declaration about the negative human consequences of current racism and its connection to the denial of basic human rights speaks to a blight on all of our democracies that necessitates special policy attention and dedicated human and budget resources. Most importantly, the pernicious racism and discrimination in our societies against Afro Descendants and Indigenous peoples and communities requires leadership to productively guide our societies toward acknowledging and apologizing for the past. Apologizing for slavery is an act of honesty, courage, and contrition that can and will strengthen us as citizens to draw upon the virtues our nations have relied upon to make significant and, at times, great contributions to humanity.
Within the call for Reparatory Justice for Afro Descendants and Indigenous communities and nations is a complex five century narrative that can not be rewritten in a decade, or a few decades. In fact, our distinct national histories are replete with starts and terminations of well intended and at times small and significant gains. What is obvious about the negative life conditions and strong, continuous demands of Afro Descendant and Indigenous communities in all of our nations is the urgent need to make a major, long term commitment of human will and budget resources to work with these communities to repair the damage done to them. The U.N International Decade for Afro Descendants is an invitation, a call, and a demand that we rededicate ourselves to righting this
historical wrong, which continues to plague and impede humanistic and material development for our citizens and nations today. To affirmatively embrace and actively support Reparatory Justice is in all of our best interests.
The progress that has been achieved in our respective nations in terms of the three elements of the Decade – Respect, Justice, Development – is not difficult to build upon. However, it is imperative that we exercise leadership and will-power in being forthright, creative, and collaborative with Afro Descendants and all other sectors of our societies to utilize this Decade to simultaneously evaluate the state of the fundamental problems that give rise to social, cultural, and economic structures of racism and discrimination, and at the same time evaluate existing policies in order to be more effective. Taking this approach, we must judiciously set forth new realistic and achievable projects while being especially cognizant of synergies that can be obtained by integrating public policy approaches designed for each of our nations and regions. As an example of this integrated policy approach that I am proposing, Reparatory Justice could be a special affirmative framework for implementing the extended U.N. Millennium Goals Project, which has been shown to be successful in lowering poverty.
Furthermore, there are additional recommendations about basic orientation points and frameworks that could lead to a productive integration of the three U.N. themes for the Afro Descendants Decade: Respect, Justice, Development that I would also like to share.
Respect for Afro Descendants is not mere formal expression of a mea culpa for the inhumanity of slavery and colonization; its not simply personal atonement for the intentionally inflicted exploitation and misery of the past; nor is it rhetorical public self-criticism. None of us living today were architects of past crimes against humanity. We were not there. Our racial, cultural or ethnic bloodlines do not speak, or act, although they may convey cultural and material inherences that we, in the present and entering the future, should assume responsibility for re-inscribing with respect, justice, and mutual benefit. The respect of which I speak is a necessary societal-proclamation, especially through the voices and policy actions of government leaders and public policy makers at national and regional levels. The Organization of American States should be a model of productive engagement with Afro Descendants toward highlighting their intrinsic human worth demonstrated by their qualities and achievements. In doing so, the sins and crimes against humanity committed in the past are not eradicated or forgotten; however, the consequent burdens of shame, hatred, division, and socio-economic inequality we have inherited are honestly and straightforwardly confronted and addressed with consistent and effective policies. Only then can Afro Descendants fully actualize their creativity and develop sustainable self-sufficient lives to become more deeply engaged citizens contributing to the whole of their societies and nations. Respect, in words and deeds, can uplift us all through due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions of Afro Descendants and their human rights.
The U.N. call for justice for Afro Descendants requires more than the now common constitutional and legal proclamations of virtually all nations to be fair, inclusive, and equal in treatment and opportunities for all citizens. Justice must be restorative. It must be evidenced in fair and equitable treatment of Afro Descendants and verified not in philosophical declarations, but in empirically documentable public policy indicators that illustrate sustained progress in the quality of life and participation of Afro Descendants. Justice must also reflect sociological engagement with Afro Descendant cultural, social, and economic proposals and initiatives to improve the quality of their lives and to advance and deepen their citizen participation in the direction and development of their nations. But justice must also include discarding institutional practices that discriminate and punishment for those individuals, civic organizations, business and corporations, and government institutions who continue to discriminate.
The U.N. International Decade for Afro Descendants is an opportunity to establish a justice-index in our countries to straight forwardly identify our national strengths and weaknesses with respect to Afro Descendant citizens. Justice linked with Respect for Afro Descendents is a rubric to discard ineffetive ideas and policies, to reinforce policies that work, and to carefully outline and implement new national and regional policies that can lead to repair for the crimes of history and current forms of discrimination.
Development must encompass the preceding two themes of respect and justice because without recognition or respect of the importance on any social group, people of African descent in this case, we fail to understand, embrace, and advance the benefit to the whole of society to our citizen, nations, and humanity as a whole. Development and justice must go hand in hand as the humanistic or philosophical underpinning of our common code of civility, legal protection, and punitive response to violations of all of our basic human rights.
Development must mean more than social and economic statistics about quantitative growth and cross-sector comparisons among our diverse populations along the road to national growth. We know all too well that mathematical indicators of development do not automatically translate into quality of life improvement for the most vulnerable in our nations, nor to an advancement of our common humanity. Thus, development must encompass improved material quality of life and respect for all lives, and fairness and equality, or justice for all. The poor quality of life for Afro Descendants and the impediments of racism and discrimination on their self-determination and ability to advance their own individual and collective interests is evidence that restorative respect, restorative justice, and restorative development must be integrated across policy sectors. The United Nations is clear in its guidance to nations and multilateral policy bodies. It asserts that:
“Consistent with the Declaration on the Right to Development, States should adopt measures aimed at guaranteeing active, free and meaningful participation by all individuals, including people of African descent in development and decision-making related thereto and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.” The U.N. also outlines development categories to include affirmative attention to people of African descent with respect to poverty, education, employment, health and housing.”
I urge you to add the category of Participatory Democracy, which places people of African descent in a catalytic and proactive role and avoids treating them as hapless victims or helpless subjects requiring the sympathy or charity offerings of others, no matter their good intentions. We need a radically new approach to and substantial outcome from development projects. 21st Century development for people of African descent and all sectors of our nations must be a full, respectful, and human endeavor. Its achievement must include the imagination, creativity, and productions of people of African descent in their many cultural and national identities across the whole of the Americas.
In conclusion, I recommend that development in the first and final analysis must be understood and undertaken by Afro Descendants and by other committed citizens and their stewards. They must be the architects of public policy that respects the human rights of all people and be social and economic justice-engineers in a holistic transnational project that requires repairs and restitution for the damage done to Afro Descendants. This is indispensable nourishment for the health and stability of our common work and for full, consistent, and universal human rights.
The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration. There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. The results are overcrowding in prisons and fiscal burdens on states, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety.
How did this happen?
We started sending more people to prison.
We started sending people to prison for much longer terms.
Harsh sentencing laws like mandatory minimums, combined with cutbacks in parole release, keep people in prison for longer periods of time. The National Research Council reported that half of the 222% growth in the state prison population between 1980 and 2010 was due to an increase of time served in prison for all offenses. There has also been a historic rise in the use of life sentences: one in nine people in prison is now serving a life sentence, nearly a third of whom are sentenced to life without parole.
Mass incarceration has not touched all communities equally
Mass incarceration and public safety
Crime rates have declined substantially since the early 1990s, but studies suggest that rising imprisonment has not played a major role in this trend. The National Research Council concluded that while prison growth was a factor in reducing crime, “the magnitude of the crime reduction remains highly uncertain and the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.” Several factors explain why this impact was relatively modest.
First, incarceration is particularly ineffective at reducing certain kinds of crimes: in particular, youth crimes, many of which are committed in groups, and drug crimes. When people get locked up for these offenses, they are easily replaced on the streets by others seeking an income or struggling with addiction.
Second, people tend to “age out” of crime. Research shows that crime starts to peak in the mid- to late- teenage years and begins to decline when individuals are in their mid-20s. After that, crime drops sharply as adults reach their 30s and 40s. The National Research Council study concludes:
“Because recidivism rates decline markedly with age, lengthy prison sentences, unless they specifically target very high-rate or extremely dangerous offenders, are an inefficient approach to preventing crime by incapacitation.”
As a result, the excessive sentencing practices in the U.S. are largely counterproductive and extremely costly.
Significant reforms in recent years
After nearly 40 years of continued growth, the U.S. prison population has stabilized in recent years.
This is partially a result of declining crime rates, but has largely been achieved through pragmatic changes in policy and practice. For more than a decade, the political climate of criminal justice reform has been evolving toward evidence-based, commonsense approaches to public safety. This can be seen in a variety of legislative, judicial, and policy changes that have successfully decreased incarceration without adverse impacts on public safety.
At the state level:
At the federal level:
Where do we need to go from here?
Just as a bicycle works best when it uses different gears based on the terrain, we need a justice system that has different responses for different situations—shifting gears to treatment, prevention, and long-term public safety solutions as appropriate. By taking a practical approach to criminal justice reform, we can decrease crime, enhance public safety, and make more responsible use of our resources.
In particular, we need to start by:
When Thurgood Marshall walked through the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952 to challenge the doctrine of “separate but equal,” he knew that he was only focusing on one half of the problem. Marshall had spent his early years at the NAACP fighting for equal access to high-quality education in all-black and all-white schools alike. By the 1950’s the political winds had shifted enough to challenge legalized segregation, but there was a catch: equal education had to take a back seat.
On Saturday, the 60th anniversary of Marshall’s masterful victory in Brown v. Board of Education, we need to focus on the NAACP’s original, broader vision for schools that are both integrated and equal. I believe the new and much-discussed Common Core standards will move us toward that goal.
The educational landscape today is defined by its harsh inequities. Students of color lag behind their white peers in test scores and graduation rates on nearly every indicator. This is not an indication of these students’ ability or desire; rather, African-American and Latino students tend to live in poor neighborhoods with underfunded schools, and these schools lack the experienced teachers, extracurricular activities, and access to college courses that help students thrive.
The new Common Core standards are an essential tool for bridging the education divide. Simply put, Common Core is a set of benchmarks that define what students should be learning at each grade level in math and English. The standards were developed by two nonpartisan state organizations — the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — and they have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia. Yet they have come under increased scrutiny as they begin to take effect.
Critics on the right claim the standards represent a federal takeover of the public education system. Critics on the left argue the new, harder tests will be used to unfairly assess teachers. To be sure, the perspectives of parents and teachers are critical as we think about how to reform classroom teaching. Yet one constituency matters most: our students. Common Core standards will help us achieve Marshall’s original vision of equal access to high-quality education.
The first step to solving a problem is identifying it correctly. The Common Core standards offer clear, consistent and high expectations for what children should be learning at each grade level. Although the new tests are often more difficult, they also offer a more accurate portrait of student achievement. Parents and policymakers can use the new data to find out which districts, schools, and teachers are struggling to meet expectations — helping parents make a stronger case for investment in the schools that need it most.
Second, the Common Core standards will help students master critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them succeed in life. The standards set clear expectations for students to digest multifaceted text, gain the ability to understand the why — and not just the how — of math, and use evidence and data to make arguments. These abstract skills are more effective than rote memorization, and they will help students prepare for real-world challenges. In short, Common Core helps teach children how to think.
To be sure, Common Core is not a silver bullet. Closing gaps in education will also require that we increase access to high-quality pre-school, expand learning opportunities for struggling students and schools, and make much-needed structural changes to public education in disadvantaged communities. Also, if schools lack the resources to implement new standards and retrain teachers, then no program will have the desired effect.
Still, the Common Core remains a significant step forward. As we celebrate Brown v. Board of Education, we must recommit Marshall’s broader vision of an integrated and equitable public education system. Common Core will help us with that challenge.