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.
Thatís wrong. And itís 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.
We have some school choice in Michigan, but too many kids are still assigned a school based on their ZIP code. There are those who want to eliminate or restrict choice, and we shouldnít let that happen. Students need to be funded equitably and we need to make sure parents have enough information to make the right choice.
The fact of the matter is that the high school graduation rate for African-American males nationally is just 52 percent ó 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 ó educational choice.
Educational choice ensures that every child has access to a quality education. Itís easier for people with financial resources to change their ZIP code or send their child to a private school. However, low-income families, many of whom have children assigned to failing schools, do not have the resources to send their children to a high-quality or specialized school that meets their needs.
Educational options ó whether charter, public, private, virtual or homeschool ó 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.
I am passionate about school choice, because I have seen the difference a good school can make.
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 ďsystemĒ to reform.
Itís what inspired me to found my own public school academy in my hometown. The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit 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. We have that right in Michigan, and we canít let anything threaten it.
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 shouldnít be a childís best opportunity to receive an education. Thatís not right and itís 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.