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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Crisis or Systemic Problem In Black Education

The month of May and June tend to be a time that we celebrate and congratulate our high school and college graduates for successfully completing universities and high school. In our exuberance, we should take time and pause to think about those young men and women who did not complete the journey successfully.

As an educator and mentor, I get to interact frequently with youth we celebrate as well as those whose dreams have been deferred. This year I had the opportunity to speak at a local Black History program on “The Crisis in Black Education,” especially as it applies to Black males.

Of course, many Black male students do well in school and go on to live successful lives. Millions of Black males have achieved wonderful things and that includes those who have grown up in high poverty and high crime communities. However, we cannot ignore the statistics that tell us that our education system is failing far too many of our young Black males.

In 2016, the National Graduation Rate reached an all-time high of 82.3 percent under President Barrack H. Obama. This improved percentage was 1 percent over the 2013 graduation rate, according to the US Department of Education and the National Center for Educational Statistics. However, the National Graduation Rate for Black males was only 59 percent in 2012-2013 according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education with negligible improvement in 2016.

Dropping out of school is socially, psychologically, and especially economically debilitating for Black males. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20, 241. That is a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Statisticbrain reported that 36% of the dropouts happens in the ninth grade. Even with these increases, African-American students, especially Black males, are continuing to experience serious problems in closing the education and economic gaps between themselves and White students.

Looking beyond the graduation and dropout rates for Black males you will discover other disparities as follow:
1. Black students are consistently disciplined at a higher rate than their White peers, despite no evidence of higher rates of school misbehavior.
2. Black males are disproportionately labeled as discipline and behavioral problems and are fast tracked out of high school through suspensions and expulsions. It is imperative that we demand school districts to evaluate their current policies and practices to identify those that may be inappropriately used as conduits for removal of Black males from learning communities within schools.

3. There are fewer opportunities for Advance Placement Courses in schools that serve more Blacks.

4. Achievement gap between Black and White males nationally are 26 percentage points for 8th grade reading proficiency and 32 percentage point for 8th grade mathematics in 2013 according to the National Assessment Educational Progress report.

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5. Black boys are 2.5 time less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs, even if their prior achievement reflects the ability to succeed.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Black males are confronted with an array of chronic problems, and the notion that these conditions constitute a crisis is problematic. First, the term crisis implies a deviation from some stable norm. It suggests a period of temporary urgency, or even a short term emergency, and not a prolonged and persistent degenerative condition.

Secondly, the term crisis also suggests that a better and more secure period preceded the present condition, and that once the crisis is over, conditions shall return to the former state, which even if ideal, was clearly superior to the way things are at the moment.

For African-American males in the U.S. there is no evidence indicating that present conditions are temporary, or that by some means presently unknown, there will eventually be improvements. In fact, data from a variety of sources suggests that conditions for Black males may indeed be growing worse.

According to a recent study conducted at the University of Chicago, Dr. Boyce D. Watkins, stated in a recent article that African-American males haven’t advanced in American society one bit since 1971. Researchers and pundits will tell you that there are many factors contributing to the low graduation rate and academic performance of Black males to include, factors related to the individual, families, school, and society.

However, in a global sense we must keep in mind that the paradigm for education in the U.S. as we know it is a Eurocentric Cultural product that is an extension of the values, ideology, and ethos of Western Civilization. Within this context, frequently, in the education process Black students’ individual differences go unrecognized in a traditional American classroom setting.

Looking At Some Solutions

This approach ignores the complexities of how individual of different backgrounds, cultures, and races learn. The current Eurocentric model and one-size fit-all methodology ignores cultural or stylistic differences that characterize various racial and ethnic groups I have mentored students over 30 years, and I frequently discover that many of them know very little about the past history of Blacks and their achievements.

The majority of them will recognize the names of Martin L. King, Jr., Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver or Malcolm X, but very little about their history from Africa, slavery, to now. Knowing your history is a crucial part of motivating one to achieve and succeed as well as feeling a sense of self-worth as a valuable member of society.

I have no wild idea that the Eurocentric Paradigm in American Education will change, but we can expand the model in such a way that it will incorporate cultural differences and stylistic learning differences to improve the outcomes for Black males.

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First, the third and fourth grade is a foundation point in the student’s academic journey and has direct implications for future achievement. Interventions at this point should include supplemental learning opportunities with intense literacy focus that is culturally based, using strategies and pedagogical practices to enhance the possibilities of improved learning and of keeping Black males in school.

Secondly, it is a statistical and actual fact that the majority of Pre-service teachers in the U.S are White, and most of them are White women. Pre-12 educators tend to be disproportionately White and female who often struggle to connect with young Black males personally and pedagogically, and may inadvertently perpetuate social messages that school is not suited for young Black males.

Black male students need a critical mass of men of color educators as positive male role models and mentors to better understand their own identities and to develop plans for college and life. Educational preparation programs do not devote enough of their curricula to enhancing the cultural competence of aspiring education professionals to deal with cultural differences, and state certification programs do little to ensure that highly qualified teachers and counselors are prepared to deal effectively with young Black males as well as other diverse student populations and families. Local school districts can institute a professional development infrastructure to train teachers and counselors to work more effectively with young men of color.

Available research highlights the benefits derived by students who enrolled in college preparatory courses, Advance Placement (AP) courses, honors courses, International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, and other types of college preparatory courses. Participation in these types of academic courses may serve as a catalyst for their improved academic motivation to attend and succeed in college.

A starting point for local school districts boards is to mandate reporting of completion rates and access ratios to advance coursework, disaggregated by race and ethnicity within gender. Schools with enrollment in advance coursework that fall below a specified threshold proportionate to their overall demographics should be identified for program improvement.

Saying that there is a crisis in the education of Black males is not an understatement, but to me it is a systemic problem that has been with us for a long time. The present condition is not only destructive, but it is robbing millions of Black males of their dreams and opportunities to be contributing citizens.

Educational inequality in the 21st Century should be disturbing to all of us. Investing in young Black males, according to the Schott Foundation’s President & CEO John H. Jackson, produces results that are an asset to our society, and positions people on a pathway out of poverty and toward social mobility.

Solving the current problems will require major policy, infrastructures, teacher and leadership training, and parent education. Dr. Boyce D. Watkins, author, economist, political analyst and commentator, reminded us that “To get a different result, we must embrace different actions. It’s time to become radical and realize that progress won’t be made until we demand it.”

George F. Reed is a Retired Educator and Consultant who lives in Chesapeake, Va.

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