Forty-seven percent of Black American males graduate from high school in the U.S. In other words, the majority of black boys are not graduating from high school in the United States of America.
The 47% takes all states into account, from Maine, with a 98% graduation rate, to New York, with just 25% of black males graduating high school. New York, with so much power and privilege, alarmingly comes out with the highest rank on the Education Inequity Index in The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. But its much maligned neighbor, Newark, NJ (and NJ in general) gets much higher marks and stands out as models of educational justice in the Schott Foundation’s recent report, posted here.
I am grateful for the information analyzed and offered to the public from this important work. I am not the mother of black boys. I don’t have to be. As long as such stark inequalities characterize our country’s education systems, and our zip codes determine whether our boys are more likely to graduate high school or go to jail, I’m profoundly affected. We are paying the price in millions of lives essentially lost, while we continue to see ourselves as the greatest country in the world. This profound disconnect is unsustainable, unpalatable, unjust – and these adjectives seem totally inadequate to describe the feeling. They only begin to touch on America’s challenges competing in the global economy with so much lost human potential.
The Schott Foundation report shows that “systemic disparities evident by race, social class, or zip code are influenced more by the social policies and practices that WE put in place to distribute educational opportunities and resources and less by the abilities of Black males.” The numbers show it’s not because the boys can’t or don’t want to succeed. We need to pay attention. What’s going on at the classroom level? At the school board meeting? Who’s slipping between the cracks? How do staffing, training, resource allocation decisions disproportionately affect a particular group of people?
The report identifies some of the steps that can be taken to remedy the situation, all within reach, like: Ensuring access to high quality early education, access to highly effective teachers, college preparatory curricula and equitable instructional resources. Ensuring safe and educationally sound living and learning communities through community wraparound supports and multi-sector partnerships like the National CARES Mentoring program. By working together, we can build the movement needed to guarantee every child, regardless of race and gender, a fair and substantive opportunity to learn and fully participate in our democratic society. So, we need deliberate, intense focus; we’ll have to start early and stay late (e.g., before Kindergarten and have strong after-school and weekend programs, like the model that’s working at the Harlem Children’s Zone).
One criticism has come from Why Boys Fail author Richard Whitmire, on the Education Week blog, as nowhere in the report are girls mentioned; all the comparisons are to white males. Twice as many African-American females graduate from college as African-American men, so the omission is relevant. Black women’s educational attainment has been analyzed extensively elsewhere, so perhaps to adequately focus on this issue, the authors chose to isolate and confront male achievement exclusively. The lack of analysis of girls’ achievement doesn’t take away from the power of the report’s findings.
The “black boys report” underscores the great potential we are throwing away, at the cost of millions of lives. I’m reminded of a quotation from Baha’u’llah: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Underlying this vision is a conviction that each human being was “created noble,” with talents to be mined out for the benefit of all humanity. The purpose of education is less about filling an empty vessel with knowledge, and more about bringing out inherent gifts. If we could enact policy, allocate budgets, and create curricula with this nobility of all in mind, individuals of any background could thrive and contribute with dignity, thus making our country – and our world – a better, stronger, happier place. These are the qualities that help make countries’ statistics look brilliant.