Published: July 15, 2014 Updated: 5:30 p.m. in the Orange County Register
Many young people in America today face a harsh reality. Their fate in life is determined by their ZIP code. For an overwhelming number of African Americans and other minorities, having the wrong ZIP code keeps you from a high school diploma, a college degree, and a future that offers you opportunities that match your talents.
That’s wrong. And it’s entirely avoidable.
We are not assigned to certain grocery stores or restaurants based on our ZIP codes, which is why it makes no sense that between K-12, children are required to attend a school solely based on where they live.
The fact of the matter is that the high school graduation rate for African American males is just 52 percent – 26 percentage points below the national average of their white counterparts. In other words, more than half of all African American children in America will never have the basic skills to compete in the 21st century workforce. Odds are many of those children will turn to crime, violence or drugs, causing problems for every single American who pays taxes or simply seeks to live in a society that allows people to realize their full potential.
There is an obvious solution at hand to deal with this chronic crisis – educational choice.
Educational options – whether charter, public, private, virtual or homeschool – have a proven track record of improving educational outcomes. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Giving parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their children helps ensure every child can reach for his or her dreams.
And, it’s why every year, while athletes and celebrities come together to celebrate athletic feats, all-star athletes and accomplishments at the ESPY Awards, there will be a group of us who come together the night before at the third annual Champions for Choice in Education celebration. A celebration that pauses to recognize a less celebrated, but easily more important cause: Ensuring every child, no matter their race, no matter their family’s income, no matter their ZIP code, has access to a quality education.
I was among the lucky ones. Most of us were not born into the “perfect ZIP code,” nor come from families with great financial means, but our athletic talents provided us academic opportunities that are denied to so many others. Without those God-given talents, many of us could have been just another inner city statistic.
And it saddens me that I – and others – made it out of difficult situations simply because of our athletic talents.
That’s why I am passionate about school choice, because I have seen the difference a good school can make. I have talked to families stuck in failing or dangerous schools. I have heard parents worry about their children not getting what they need and despairing that there’s nothing they can do. I have seen students from underperforming schools thrive in new schools. And, I have talked to successful young people who tell me how big a difference a school of their choice has made in their lives, opening doors and expanding horizons. Some people question the urgency of this issue, but I question why educational choice is even up for debate. No child should be left in an underperforming school, while we wait for the “system” to reform. It’s what inspired me to found my own public school academy in my hometown, Detroit. The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is but one of many options nationwide, but the sad reality is today there are far too many parents who are still denied the right to send their child to a quality school of their choice.
Great education transforms lives and substandard education diminishes them. I want education that allows every child to meet his or her full potential, both for themselves and for their community.
An athletic scholarship shouldn’t be a child’s best opportunity to receive an education. That’s not right and it’s not fair. Neither luck nor the ability to dribble a basketball should be the only tickets out of an underperforming school. It is well past time that our elected officials enact common sense reform to save a generation of children from a fate they do not deserve.
Jalen Rose is an ABC/ESPN Analyst, former NBA star and founder of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy,a public charter high school in Detroit.