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Leave no school behind: they're fighting for high-quality education. You can, too

Author: Essence

Frederick Douglass called it the "pathway from slavery to freedom." W.E.B. DuBois considered it "the most fundamental" of civil rights, while Malcolm X hailed it as "our passport to the future." African-Americans have always understood the importance of education. Yet finding the best learning environment for our children in the current era of school choice has become an increasingly tough--and often frustrating--assignment.

The options have certainly grown. Today about two thirds of Black students go to public schools in their neighborhoods, while almost a quarter attend ones they choose, including magnet programs, charter schools, out-of-boundary transfers and other public options. The federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires school districts to publish annual "report cards" on their performance and provide tutoring or transfers from low-performing schools, gives families additional ammunition for finding the right academic and social fit. And the newly updated Individuals With Disabilities Education Act gives parents more power--and schools more money--to help evaluate and serve students with special needs.

But making the most of these options means parents have to be pickier--and pushier. Los Angeles tax attorney Shannon King Nash, for example, says she has earned "close to a Ph.D." tracking down support and therapies for her 6-year-old autistic son. The bottom line: Parents have to do their homework to know what to look for in an effective school as well as how to work with a school that doesn't quite make the grade. All over this country, visionary principals, gifted teachers and community activists are partnering with parents to help children flourish in our schools. We profile three of them on these pages and tell you how to empower yourself to get the best education for your child.