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Why Black Communities Can't Settle for Small Education Reforms

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By Dr. John H. Jackson, NNPA Special Correspondent –

Several weeks ago the Schott Foundation released "Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education". The report revealed that the overall graduation rate (2007-2008) for Black males in the U.S. was only 47 percent. Taken alone this statistic is alarming. Coupled with the fact that two-thirds of all new jobs will require some level of college attainment and the correlation between education attainment and a communities’ economic base, access to healthcare, civic participation and incarceration rate—the statistic is dangerous.

While the numbers in the Schott 2010 report are new, few should be shocked as in 2008 the Schott Foundation highlighted the fact that the Black male graduation rate was only 48 percent nationally. Many articles have been written discussing how these statistics project a bleak future for Black males and our nation. However, we cannot get so wrapped up with projecting the future that we lose sight of the impact of failed federal and state systems on Black males and youth when they do not provide learning opportunities to all students.

For example, New York City, which enrolls the largest number of Black males in the nation, graduated fewer than 29 percent of its Black male students on-time and college ready.

Chicago, which enrolls the second largest number of Black male students only graduated 44 percent on-time.

None can separate New York’s nor Chicago’s graduation rate with the fact that TODAY, in New York City, 50 percent of Black males are unemployed.

TODAY, in Chicago Black males are disproportionately involved in shootings and are the victims of homicides.

During one June Chicago weekend alone, more than 52 people were shot—reports indicated that the majority of the shootings were youth gang related.

These education and social factors indicate that Black communities, churches, businesses and families are in trouble TODAY and can neither wait in the future to take action to change the trajectory.

Unfortunately, as urban and rural Black communities are losing thousands of young people per year the majority of solutions put forward by officials can only save hundreds in a given community. The main discussion today has been to give these communities more access to charters or individual academies---when every indication is that even if all charters were high quality (which is not the case) creating enough of these schools to address the depth of today’s reality is virtually impossible.

For example, Chicago’s, Urban Prep Academy, an all boys academy where 100 percent of the 107 graduates are going to college is often cited when officials discuss solutions to the problem. While Urban Prep’s accomplishment is to be lauded, offering the school’s existence, or other charters, as a model for systemic change is insufficient.

Even if the city replicated Urban Prep ten times, the graduation rate for Black males in Chicago would only be impacted slightly.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in 2009 the fastest-growing charter system was in New York City with 22 percent growth.

Yet, charters in New York City only educate 2 percent (21,000) of New York City's one million-plus students. These school-by-school solutions are inadequate for depth of the challenge. High minority and high poverty communities and their youth have been neglected for so many decades that they need solutions that impact thousands not hundreds.

It’s time for faith institutions, grassroots advocates, parents and progressive elected officials to call for large-scale systemic reforms that we know work. For example:

- Guarantee all students access to high quality early education ensuring that they are literate by 3rd grade - as only 13 percent of Black 8th Grade students are proficient in 8th Grade reading. - Provide all students who are 10-15 percentage points below the proficiency rate an Individualized Student Recovery Plan—which provides each student the academic supports, mentoring and health supports needed to provide students an opportunity to learn. If states can pay for probationary officers for Black males surely they can employ mentors for them.

- Call for states to develop an "Opportunity to Learn" plan that outlines how the state plans to reduce the inter-district and intra-district disparities in access to early education, highly effective teachers, college bound curricula and equitable instructional resources over the next five years. The Plan should be costed out to plot the long term state and federal investments needed to protect every child’s civil right to an opportunity to learn.

Many of these requests will likely be met with the question: How can we afford to do this in this economic climate?

The Black community TODAY is uniquely positioned to respond to that question. We Can’t afford not to! Dr. Jackson is president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education

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