Posted by DEAN SKIP RUTHERFORD — The Clinton School welcomed our students back today for the spring semester. The beginning of each new term is always an exciting time. Our students will be doing their group internship projects in St. Francis and Phillips Counties. I will write more about those later.
Thanks to my friend, Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the President of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, author Jonathan Kozol spent time today with our students. Kozol’s latest book, “The Shame of the Nation” is a New York Times bestseller. He is speaking tonight at Philander Smith as part of their outstanding lecture series. Kozol’s insight on educational inequality, the resegregation of our schools and how America is not living up to the promise of Brown v. Board of Education is powerful. I highly recommend reading his book. From 1987-1991, I served on the Little Rock School Board and was President in 1989-90. One of the major challenges — then and now — is a national disparity gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged, between Caucasians and African Americans and between Caucasians and Hispanics. Because the disadvantaged often lack pre-school and other enriching opportunities, many poor children start out behind. Too often, there are already large educational gaps among students in kindergarten and first grade. Even with the best of teachers, it’s not easy to catch up when one begins so far back. During summers, advantaged children have access to books, libraries, vacations, camps, movies, video games, museums, computers and other experiences. Many elementary-age disadvantaged children do not. As a result, for many of America’s poor children, the disparity gap widens every summer. We certainly need more and accessible pre-school programs, but elementary education (kindergarten through grade five) also needs a “summer plan.” Everything, including year round schooling for those who need or want it, to personalized individual plans, to public-private partnerships, should be on the discussion table. A good long term investment for Arkansas would be to use a very small portion of the state surplus to examine the state’s, nation’s and world’s best summer success stories, ideas and programs. For many children, summer is a well deserved break and a time for fun, growth and adventure. For many others, summer is a period of isolation, little opportunity and a significant disparity gap factor. Education needs to better address the latter— or at the very least—try harder.