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January 16, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & the Current State of Education

“The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”

These words were delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in March, 1964 and ring as true today as the day they were spoken. Just months after delivering his famous “I have a dream” speech, Dr. King accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers and delivered this speech.


Dr. King’s steadfast pursuit of equality in education lives on to inspire us today. And while our nation has made some major changes in education since the Jim Crow era, entrenched inequalities still linger and the change has slowed over the past 25 years.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores have revealed some noteworthy trends since it began tracking students in 1970. From the start, NAEP scores showed an achievement gap between white and black students in reading and math. While the gap narrowed significantly between 1971 and 1980, it has remained largely stagnant for the past two decades. NAEP reports show combined math and reading scores narrowed only 7 points between 1990 and 2008, and 2008 scores showed an approximated 47 point gap between black and latino students and their higher performing white counterparts.

Along with educational barriers, other socioeconomic barriers exist, such as equal opportunity in employment and fair wages. These inequities are inextricably linked and highlight the need for movement.

As spoken by Dr. King, “the field of education has been a battleground in the freedom struggle,” as it remains today. We are at a turning point and have an opportunity to uphold Dr. King’s legacy and empower young students of all races to succeed.

What can we do?

  • Get the community involved. Make your voice heard and make change happen. There is power in one voice and even more in numbers.

  • Volunteer in a school or as a reading partner. Supplementary support can make a huge difference in a child’s educational achievement.

  • Support programs that engage and educate parents.

  • Support programs that enhance early childhood health and learning – like Jumpstart and ZERO TO THREE.

  • Support teachers and empower teachers to advocate.

Let’s finish the work Dr. King started. Let’s advocate for change and take action where and when we can.

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