When she was in elementary school, Denisha Merriweather failed the third grade — twice.
But that wasn’t Merriweather’s fault, says U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Speaking at a congressional luncheon sponsored by champions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, DeVos on Tuesday explained how Merriweather is but one of many slipping through the ever-widening cracks in America’s flawed public education system.
Raised by a single mother in poverty, Merriweather was moved from one school to another, on a fast track to become yet another sad statistic. But then Merriweather’s godmother intervened, and with the assistance of a school choice program in Florida, Merriweather was given a chance to attend a school that better met her needs.
“Today, she’s not only the first in her family to graduate high school,” DeVos said, “she’s graduated college. And this May, she’ll graduate from her master’s program.”
“Today, she’s not only the first in her family to graduate high school, she’s graduated college. And this May, she’ll graduate from her master’s program.”
This is a model DeVos said must be replicated, so as to provide every child an opportunity to attend a quality school.
Especially for students of color, DeVos continued, the issue is paramount.
“The history of HBCUs is one of direct confrontation against brutal racism in the aftermath of the Civil War,” she said in remarks that were later misconstrued by critics as downplaying the racist conditions that led to the schools’ founding. “But the scars of that history have yet to fade, and far too many students of color still bear the weight of that discrimination centuries later. It reveals itself in the form of ill-equipped schools, poor teachers and a casual disregard for the plight of these students.”
That reality, DeVos said, must change.
“We need more good schools,” she concluded. “We need more good teachers. And no child should be denied the opportunity to enter a great school. Not one.”
Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.