Gingrich, Bloomberg, Sharpton Call Education Reform ‘Civil Rights Issue of 21st Century’

Fred Lucas | May 7, 2009 | 6:07pm EDT
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center, flanked by Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 7, 2009, following their meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss education reform. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

White House ( - Three unlikely allies met with President Obama Thursday, declaring education improvements are the “civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and liberal activist Al Sharpton met with the president and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the White House.

The meeting came after the Obama administration announced that students in the D.C. school choice program currently receiving vouchers would continue to receive vouchers until graduation.
Though the three acknowledged that they put aside their differences on other political issues to unite on improving schools, none gave any specifics about education reform and, when asked about school vouchers, spoke in generalities.
Duncan plans to travel to 15 states in the coming months to solicit feedback from teachers, administrators, and parents about federal education policy. Obama has advocated early childhood education, increased federal spending to send students to college, and the improvement of educational standards.

Sharpton said that in some large cities 50 percent of the black students drop out of high school.

“Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Education there is still a difference in how students are treated and a difference in how schools are funded,” said Sharpton.

Gingrich said education reform must be taken beyond No Child Left Behind and credited Obama for announcing support for charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

“Education should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” Gingrich said. “If a foreign power did to our children what we did, we would say it's an act of war.”

Gingrich added that poor educational achievement in math and science also poses a national security threat.

Bloomberg announced that test scores are improving and 68.9 percent of fourth graders and 57 percent of eighth graders – the two grades tested by the state – are reading at grade level in New York City. That’s up from 46.5 percent and 29.5 percent in 2002.
“We’ve had seven years in a row of closing the outrageous ethnic gaps in testing,” Bloomberg said. “The school system is for the kids and not the ones who work for it.”
Duncan repeated Gingrich’s view, saying, “I is absolutely a civil rights issue.”
“We will fight for it as a social justice matter,” Duncan said. “We have to educate our way back to a better economy.”
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