Michael Phillips, board chair of the leading education advocacy group 50CAN, spoke last month at a TEDxWilmingtonED Conference on the topic, “When Kids Learn on Broken Chairs.”
He begins by talking about a literal broken chair, but later the image evolves into a metaphor for the broken K-12 public education system in the U.S.
Phillips even identifies four “legs” that need to be intact for the “chair” to function optimally: parents, schools, students, and communities.
“Only when all four legs work together and are reinforced by a moral frame will we have a sturdy enough chair for our kids to sit on,” Phillips says. “When any one part of the chair is weak, kids will continue to fall.”
A moral frame
Phillips has a dramatic story of his own. Arrested as a young man for involvement in criminal activity, a judge gave him a choice: college or jail. Phillips chose college and attended Oral Roberts University, a Christian college, in Oklahoma. The college changed his life and made him an education champion.
He is now senior pastor of a more than 4,000-member church, Kingdom Life in Baltimore, and a committed education advocate. He serves on the Maryland State Board of Education, and helped to raise funding and community support to bring Green Street Academy, a public charter school, to the Kingdom Life campus. He is also chair and co-founder of Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools.
K-12 education is “deeply inequitable”
The need for advocates like Phillips is dire. In a statement, the Center for Education Reform recently described the “disappointing reality” that most U.S. citizens face daily as a result of education gaps, lack of access to training and technology, and a lack of options, according to Cara Candal, a research fellow at CER.
“This gap in access leads to staggering achievement gaps of six years of learning between low-income students and their more affluent peers,” writes Candal, an expert educator and assessment specialist who has studied classrooms in the U.S. and abroad, according to CER.
“The U.S. has one of the most deeply inequitable systems of education in the world,” the statement says.
The country “is not an outlier when it comes to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity,” Candal explains. “It just doesn’t do as good a job of providing access to high-quality options for all students.”
50CAN provides some hope. It has successfully achieved 85 education policy victories in 11 states. Says Phillips, who chairs the 50CAN board, “The common good of educating our children must become a priority again. If we can shift our priorities and be driven by our conscience, we can turn the tide for so many children and so many families.”
This article first appeared in Black Enterprise on May 3, 2018.