The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) has been
working since August of 2000 to actively support parental choice in education,
empower families, and increase educational options for black children.
For years, community leaders, educators, policymakers and
parents have attempted to improve schools for financially disadvantaged and
at-risk children, with limited success. However, by linking the African American
community with the broader school choice movement, BAEO is opening minds to the
idea of parental choice and educational options for low-income black families -
minds that might have been previously closed to the idea of educational choice.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options seeks to address
the question: Should children be subjected to an inadequate education, simply
because they are poor?
Critics of school choice programs answer "yes" by fighting
against programs such as vouchers and tax credits that allow poor students to
escape failing schools.
Fortunately, the new federal education law, the No Child Left
Behind Act, offers more opportunities for families to have real school choice.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of this year, the new law
mandates that school districts and states develop strong systems of
accountability based upon student performance.
It also gives parents of children from financially
disadvantaged backgrounds options to participate in public school choice
programs or obtain supplemental services such as tutoring programs.
What does this mean for BAEO and the low-income black
families it supports?
Up to now, the school choice movement and its supporters have
gained slow, but steady ground in the fight for educational options. But now,
with the law on its side, BAEO and the school choice movement expect to make
greater progress than ever on behalf of choice.
Before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect,
superintendents of school districts could deny children the right to an adequate
education with few consequences. But, the new law's choice options increase
competition, making it more difficult for school officials to offer a poor
quality education without losing students and funding.
School districts now will be held to several new
For example, if a school district claims it doesn't have the
facilities or the space to remove children from a failing school, then those
children can go to school in a neighboring district - it's the law.
If a school is failing, the school district must provide
transportation to those children whose parents exercise their right to school
choice - it's the law.
If a school continues to fail for three or more years, the
district must allow parents to choose tutoring or other supplemental
after-school services and pay for those services - it's the law.
These choice options will spur competition, forcing
improvement in failing schools.
Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education, said it best during
his back-to-school address entitled "Confronting Challenges to Change": "We have
got to stop with the excuses. We have to remember that the children are our main
concern - we have to put them first."
The new Act will provide opportunities for organizations such
as BAEO to expose academic failure and demand a better education for every
We at BAEO admit that the law is not the be-all-end-all of
school reform, but it will open the door for more choice and change.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options plans to launch
major public information campaigns across the country to promote these new
choice options and inform parents of their rights under the No Child Left Behind
The cities of Detroit, Dallas, Milwaukee and Philadelphia,
have been selected by BAEO as pilot cities for the informational campaigns. We
hope to reach at least 20,000 eligible parents and community members in
economically disadvantaged, at-risk communities in the four cities, explaining
their rights under the law and giving them action steps to take to demand
quality education for their children.
Our full-scale media campaign will use direct mail,
television, radio, newspapers, the Internet, and door-to-door visits. We also
will provide direct assistance to eligible parents through call centers and
With help from the U.S. Department of Education and the
enforcement of No Child Left Behind, BAEO will succeed in its mission to promote
parental choice and empower parents to "vote with their feet" - leaving failing
Opponents of choice will continue to balk at the changes that
come with each school reform effort and attempt to remove the focus from
children. They will cry poverty in school budgets, claim teachers are being
shortchanged, and suggest that administrators must be given more power.
We at BAEO encourage parents and community leaders to
remember school reform is not about teachers, school officials, or the schools
themselves. It's not No School Left Behind or No Teacher Left Behind. It's No
Child Left Behind.
Andrea T. Williams is the Director of Communications and
Education for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (www.baeo.org).
BAEO, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has 30 chapters in 20 states and the
District of Columbia.