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Readin', Writin' & Race: Education Snapshots in Black and White

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By TaRessa Stovall, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

A quick round-up of recent education stories offers a glimpse into the complex stew of progress, setbacks, and conflicting news that represents race and learning in America today.

Higher Learning: A rare piece of good-news-in-Black-education comes from a widely-reported story about Urban Prep, a charter school for Black males from some of Chicago’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods, which has sent 100 percent of its graduates to college for the second year. The four-year-old school was founded to provide quality alternative education to its students, 85 percent of whom live below the poverty line and most who came to Urban Prep reading below grade level. All 107 of last year’s inaugural graduating class were accepted into colleges.

“Not only are these young men being accepted to college, they are being recruited by some of the best higher education institutions in the United States,” reported EduinReview.com. “One student this year was accepted to 21 colleges, and received $719,000 in scholarships.” Among his choices: Harvard, Yale and Wheaton College.

Two additional campuses have opened in Chicago, and plans were announced to reproduce the Urban Prep formula in other cities.

Mo’ Down in Motown: A new plan to close 44 schools and one administrative building in the financially-devastated Motor City this June “will create a leaner, smarter Detroit Public Schools,” according to Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for the city’s school district. Bobb unveiled a $1 billion plan slated to cut some $31 million in operating expenses and lower future maintenance costs.

“We have no more time to waste. We know that we have not only a financial emergency but an academic emergency as well. In many of our schools, we have a reading emergency, a writing emergency, a science emergency, and a math emergency,” Bobb said in a statement.

This is in addition to 29 Detroit schools that were closed last year. “The nearly 88,000-student district faces a deficit of at least $219 million. Full-time enrollment is projected to drop to about 56,000 by 2015,” reported MSNBC.com. “The plan seeks to reduce costs by eliminating unused space in the wake of shrinking enrollment, as students flee to the suburbs. It will mean thousands of students once again will be shuffled between neighborhood schools.”

The closures and mergers dovetail with an academic plan Bobb unveiled recently that call for a 98 percent graduation rate and 100 percent of students being accepted to college by 2015.

Detroit may regret turning down a $200 million gift to revitalize its schools in 2004. As a September 30, 2010 editorial in the Detroit News reports, Bob Thompson, a road builder, wanted to give the bulk of his fortune to local education to help schools graduate 90 percent of their students and send 90 percent of those graduates on to college. “Instead of grabbing the money and doing a happy dance, Detroiters, as is their custom, wailed about a suburban outsider taking away their schools and stealing their children,” the paper stated. “Then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told Thompson to just drop off the check and let Detroit Public Schools decide how to spend it.”

Memo to Detroit: See Newark.

Newark’s Facebook-funded Consolidation: Newark, N.J. school officials are looking at a consolidation plan to make more space for 11 charter schools, according to The Washington Post. The story suggests the move is part of an “overhaul” funded by a recent $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Newark Mayor Corey Booker.

“The plan calls for some long-struggling schools to be closed and their students sent elsewhere. Other schools with low enrollment could be consolidated, The Post reports. “The buildings freed up by the moves would be used to house new and existing charter schools. It’s unclear whether they would pay rent.”

But officials say the news is premature. The Star-Ledger newspaper obtained the draft of a proposal that wasn’t meant for the public, according to Rochelle Hendricks, acting state deputy education commissioner leading the team that is overseeing the transition of Newark’s schools. “While Hendricks told the Star-Ledger that “The co-locations for charters is not finalized in any way, shape or form,” the paper reports that Newark school officials will announce the creation of five new public schools at a meeting of the Newark Public School Advisory Board on February 22.

The new schools are: Bard Early College, Green School, Diploma Plus, Harvey Milk (designed for gay and lesbian students) and YouthBuild (for students transitioning from jail and other trouble) .Unlike charter schools, they will be run by the Newark school district. Each will be housed or share space within an existing Newark school.

Hendricks emphasized that the goal is to offer more options to Newark students while making the best use of the buildings. She said that no school facilities will be closed.

Black Professors, Where Art Thou?: Dr. Boyce Watkins, a popular blogger, media commentator, speaker and a professor of finance at Syracuse University, reports a that a recent survey at his YourBlackWorld.com site reveals that “42 percent of blacks who attended white universities never had a black professor, and that close to three-quarters of blacks have had only one black professor during their college career,” according to NewsOne.com. Watkins said he hadn’t had any Black professors in his college career, adding that few Black professors are granted tenure, but are given temporary or visiting positions to pump up school diversity statistics. He also reported that half of the survey respondents from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) said they hadn’t had more than three African-American professors in fields outside of African-American or Africana Studies.

While related statistics weren’t available at press time, at least one undergraduate student felt the sting of racism in pursuit of her studies. Murray State University freshman Arlene Johnson arrived early to a political science class to find a film in progress. When she asked the professor, Mark Whattier, about the timing, he said that he typically started films before class, adding that, he “expected” Black students to be late because “slaves never showed up on time, so their owners often lashed them for it.”

Johnson filed a complaint with the Office of Equal Opportunity that day, and Wattier was later suspended.

Minorities Given ‘Unfair Edge?’: The Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes race-based affirmative education in colleges and universities, is attacking Ohio State University and Miami University, both in Ohio, for allegedly admitting “blacks over whites” with their new report, “Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at Two Ohio Public Universities” released last week.

Officials from both schools criticized the study, releasing statements that they select students based on a variety of factors beyond race and ethnicity, including the rigor of their high school courses, strength of their school, essays, leadership and work experience, and examples of overcoming obstacles and demonstrating progress. With OSU and MU released statements last week saying that they look at a variety of factors that transcend a student’s race and ethnicity when doling out seats on campus.

“The report charges that Miami University admitted Blacks over Whites at a ratio of 8 to 1 and 10.2 to 1 using SAT and ACT, respectively, as well as other factors, such as grades, gender, residency and year of admission, and that Ohio State University admitted Blacks over Whites at a ratio of 3.3 to 1 and 7.9 to 1 using the SAT and ACT, respectively,” according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

“The report also claims that MU admitted Hispanics over Whites at a ratio of 2.2 to 1 using either the SAT or ACT, and that OSU admitted Hispanic over White students at a ratio of 4.3 to 1 and 6.5 to 1 using the SAT and ACT, respectively. The schools were also found to give a “modest degree of preference” to Asian students,” Diverse Issues stated.

Dolan Evanovich, Vice President for Strategic Enrollment Planning at OSU, said after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger case that stated the University of Michigan’s affirmative action could be used in college admissions but only on a limited basis, and that OSU implemented a ‘holistic review’ for all applications.

An Increasingly Different World for Some HBCUs: The globalization of American higher education is a passport to “steep challenges” for several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), according to a new, as yet, unreleased, survey by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a survey of 14 of the country’s 18 historically laBck land-grant institutions suggests that in the 2008-9 academic year:

■Six had no full-time employee in charge of campus internalization, and the average institution had fewer than two people devoted to that area;

■Only 0.55 percent of their students studied abroad, and more than one-third of those who did were White, compared to 14 percent of students at predominantly-White institutions;

■International students made up only 1.78 percent of the student body on these campuses, compared to close to 4 percent for all higher education institutions.

The report explains that historically Black institutions tend to send students to locations that majority-White institutions do not. The Black colleges and universities surveyed offered as many study-abroad programs in Africa as they did in Europe, long the dominant destination for college students nationwide; and they attract many Caribbean students.

In a nation struggling with every aspect of its public education system, it’s clear that race is every bit as relevant as readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic today as in years past, and for the foreseeable future.

TaRessa Stovall is Managing Editor of TheDefendersOnline.

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