- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Count Bill Cosby as a big fan of school choice.

With Congress and the White House gearing up for a major battle over the future of education policy, the comedian who famously criticized academic failings in the black community added his voice Wednesday to that of House Speaker John A. Boehner and others who want to give parents a bigger say in their children’s education.

The debate over reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was renamed the No Child Left Behind Act by the Bush administration, is expected to be resurrected during the 112th Congress. Congressional leaders and Obama administration officials are searching for common ground on charter schools and partnering with institutions of higher learning to improve student achievement.

Mr. Cosby zeroed in on that particular issue Wednesday.

Saying there needs to be a “revolution” to turn around the status quo for poor and black children, he urged colleges and universities, such as the highly competitive Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to “work with teachers and bring kids onto campus.”

“MIT is only a 2½-block walk to a lower economic neighborhood,” Mr. Cosby said. “Kids need to see more of this school and say, ‘Yes, I can be part of this.’” His comments came during a conference call to promote National School Choice Week, which begins on Sunday.

While many school-choice proponents are using some variation of the “I’m in” or “Are you in?” to show their support, Mr. Cosby did not. Instead, he encouraged three former at-risk Baltimore youths to explain to the media how school-choice experiences changed their lives.

Tyronn Young, who is expected to graduate this year from Morehouse College, said he was 11 years old and an average student when he was tapped to attend Baraka School in Kenya.

“I was just getting C’s. School choice needs to be at the top of the [school-reform] list,” Mr. Young said. “I can say I wouldn’t have gone to college if it hadn’t been for Baraka, and charter school with the financing [and] counseling. I had someone who could guide me to take responsibility for my behavior and my grades because of the support and tight structure, and the mentoring.”

It’s younger generations who Mr. Boehner, a longtime school-choice proponent, mentions in a video for National School Choice Week.

“I’ve always believed that parents are best equipped to know their children’s needs, and for that reason parents should be empowered to select the best learning environment,” he says in the video.

“Congress needs to open up the education system to include all forms of school choice, including private, charter, traditional and home schooling. Restricting parents’ choices would only harm our children’s future.”

Mr. Cosby drew considerable criticism from blacks for his 2004 remarks marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on school desegregation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic and lower-middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal,” he said. “In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. … Brown vs. the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there.”

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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