As a seasoned “chalk and black board” teacher and long time staff development consultant in the arena of the African Centered curriculum model, this is actually a difficult article to mentally structure and one that I take no joy in writing. Comments herein noted, however, have to be shared as this treatment contends that we as a Black community dwell in a serious state of denial when it comes to the education and development of our children, Black males in particular.
The research base underscoring the following remarks have been on my radar since at least the previous decade and will now be tapped to shed light on recent findings regarding African American students in cross level educational corridors.
James J. Heckman from the University of Chicago and the American Bar Foundation’s Paul A. LaFontaine in their 2007 discussion paper “American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels” cite in their introduction that high school graduation “is a barometer of the health of American society and the skill level of its future workforce” and that throughout the better half of the 20th century, each new generation of Americans “was more likely to graduate from high school than the preceding one.”
The exact reverse, however, has become quite evident – albeit to this writer quite predictable – in our nation’s Black communities. A 50-state report released mid-August from the Schott Foundation for Public Education came to the alarming conclusion, according to published accounts, that “public education has failed Black male students.”
Titled “Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Educationm” the study reveals that the overall 2007/2008 graduation rate for Black males in the U.S. was only 48 percent.
The account additionally highlights findings that New York state’s graduation rate for Black males is only 25 percent, most alarming when noted in Janet Shan’s August 17 “Hinterland Gazett” net report that New York has the nation’s “highest enrollment of Black students.”
Shan further contends that only 28 percent of the city’s Black male students graduate with diplomas on time and that each year, approximately 100,000 Black male students in New York do not graduate from high school four years hence with their entering freshman class.
Highlights of the report indicate that the five worst performing districts with large Black male student enrollment are New York (28%), Philadelphia (28%), Broward County, Fla. (39%), Chicago (44%), and Nashville, Tenn. (47%).
States with Black male enrollment exceeding 100,000 having the highest graduation rates for Black male students are New Jersey (68%), Maryland (55%), California (54%) and Pennsylvania (53%). Districts with the lowest graduation rates for Black male students are Pinellas County, Florida (21%), Palm Beach County, Florida (22%), Duval County, Florida (23%), Charleston County, S.C. (24%), and Buffalo, N.Y. (25%).
Dade County, Fla., Cleveland and Detroit also record low graduation rates for Black male students, each at 27 percent. Wisconsin during 2007-2008 reported a Black student enrollment of 46,508 with a 50 percent Black male graduation rate, only slightly higher than the national average for our numbers.
“Not only are we in an economic crisis. We are in the throes of an education crisis in the United States that cannot be ignored,” says Shan.
Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone and who also provided the foreword to this report said that the numbers in the Schott Foundation study “form a nightmarish picture, one that is all the more frightening for being both true and long-standing.”
He adds that, “These boys are failing” and contends that it is the responsibility of the adults around them “to turn these trajectories around.” He further positions that “all of us must ensure that we level the playing field for the hundreds of thousands of children who are at risk of continuing the cycle of generational poverty.”
President and CEO of the Schott Foundation, Dr. John H. Jackson observes that, “Currently, the rate at which Black males are being pushed out of school and into the pipeline to prison far exceeds the rate at which they are graduating and reaching high levels of academic achievement.”
And on the college campus, it is not going to get too much better. Justin Pope in a March 30 Associated Press report last year on the 83 federally designated four-year historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) show that only 37% of their Black students finish a degree within six years, four percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for Black students.
But when clustered statistically within African American male/female comparative domains, the picture is not looking very promising at all for Black males. According to the Pope account, at the 38 HBCUs, fewer than one in four men who started in 2001 had completed a bachelor’s degree by 2007. At Texas Southern, Voorhees, Edward Waters and Miles College as reported, the figure was under 10%.
Black women are outperforming Black men in education notes the AP writing and as our women account for more than 61% of HBCU students and are enjoying unprecedented leadership opportunities, “they also pay a price in everything from one-sided classroom discussions to competition for dates.”
“Most of the so-called ‘Big-Men on Campus’ are women,” and that it is the ladies who “pretty much run the yard,” says Velma Maclin, a student at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.
On 17 HBCU campuses, the AP account informs us that there are two women for every man, and on a few campuses, the ratio is three-to-one. At North Carolina Central University in Durham for example, the student population is two-thirds women.
And we are not out of the woods yet. There is more. Having canvassed both high school and college, it appears that we in the Black community might have additional challenges emerging for our little ones; yes even from our own babies.
A study in this past May’s issue of Developmental Psychology submits that the majority of Latino kindergartners in American schools have comparable quality social skills to their white middle-class peers and that even “low-income Latino kindergartners” in behavioral demonstrative indicators “are ahead of their Black peers” in social skill development.
In other words, within an educational context, Latino students overall enter school at pre-K and K4 levels with strong “I can sit down in may seat, be still, and respectfully pay attention to my teacher” learning ready skill assets. The report cautions however that these early gains “are likely to soon disappear if they attend low-quality schools and live in low-income neighborhoods.”
In her May 3, 2010 “Education Week” article “Latino Kindergartners’ Social Skills Found Strong,” writer Mary Ann Zehr quotes University of Texas (Austin) associate professor of sociology Robert Crosnoe who conducted previous research on Latinos employing the same national database.
Crosnoe positions that Latino parents “do a great job of getting their children school-ready in a behavioral or socio-emotional sense, even if their academic skills are somewhat lower than those of other children.”
He would add that “we need to make the investment at the start of school when Latino children are eager and enthusiastic and motivated but before the many disadvantages they face – lower quality schools, watered-down curricula–start to chip away at the socio-emotional advantages they brought into school.”
“There is something going on culturally that is protecting Latino children during these early childhood years,” says Linda Espinosa, a recently retired professor of early-childhood education from the University of Missouri in Columbia in the Zehar article.
A challenge facing our Black community is that given the immense negative influence of urban popular culture that parents are imposing upon our babies and the apparent continuing breakdown of the central city community social infrastructure, just how many African American children moving forward are and will be learning ready, as compared to their Latino peers, upon entering the pre-school or K4 classroom?
The enormous frustration facing this writer in the preparation of this story is that the signs, markers, performance trends, and evolving stats leading up to now very visible degenerative Black male graduation statistics, predictably less than desirable college academic performance, and now sub-standard learning readiness levels with our babies, all such accounts have been known by professional African American educational stakeholders, academicians, teachers, principals, and social service providers for over the past two decades stretching back even into the 1980’s.
We know this because for just as long and well from the early 90’s particularly in this paper (MCJ), I have been quoting pertinent available stats in such articles commenting on the respective educational climate of African American students over this span of time.
These markers have been known by our own Black “experts” in the field now for nearly three decades and we have done little to nothing to successfully intervene and turn the tide to avoid the above cited current day outcomes for our Black male students here in 2010. We are indeed responsible for our own decline – not lack of funding, not overcrowded classrooms, not the so-called inferior schools, and not even due to any lack of teacher “diversity training.”
We knew November 5, 2003, for example, that according to a Chicago Tribune newspaper front page headline, “44% of state schools flunk test” and that in that same year as noted during the month of September, writers Sarah Carr and Alan J. Bursuk report the “State graduation rate for Blacks is still last in nation” citing that “for the third year in a row,” Wisconsin has the lowest graduation rate in the country for African American students.
Just quoting from this writer’s own past articles, in the Advancement Project Report (APR) “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” citing the then Chicago public school system of 434,419 students, 29,700 were suspended in the 2002-2003 school year and possibly up to 3,000 students were expelled in the 2003-2004 school year.
Yet another 2004 “Public Education and Black Male Students: A State Report Card” study reveals that at that time, only 41% of Black males in the United States graduated from high school in 2001 through 2002, an indicator 6% lower than the current 2010 Schott Foundation findings. That would be only 4 out of every 10 Black men.
This “Report Card” surfaces the lowest graduation rates for Black males in 20 districts with Black male enrollments of 10,000 or more during the stated period. Cincinnati, for example, had a Black male enrollment of 15,340 with only 19% graduating. Cleveland records a 25,973 Black male enrollment with only 19% Black males graduating.
The Black male enrollment for Milwaukee during this period was 29,893 with only 24% graduating.
So why the alarm now? Why was not a bullhorn blasting then?
Moving forward (or backward) – it still continues. A 2007 “Education Week” report confirms that at least a third of teenagers in America are dropping out of school prior to earning their diplomas and that Detroit at this time “has the worst rate” with fewer than 25 percent of the freshman class graduating four years later.
Further, conclusions addressed by New York Times writer Erik Eckholm in his March 20, 2006 article “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn,” reinforce the basis for the above noted personal “frustration” where he cites that problems afflicting Black men have been known for decades. Quoting Ronald B. Mincy, professor of social work at Columbia University and editor of “Black Males Left Behind” (2006):
“There’s something very different happening with young Black men, and it is something we can no longer ignore. Over the last two decades, the economy did great and low skilled women, helped by public policy, latched onto it. But young Black men were falling farther back.”
The 1990’s was a “bad decade” for Black men according to Georgetown University economist Harry J. Holzer in the Eckholm article, even though the 90’s “had the best labor market in 30 years.”
And to top it all off, as though the proverbial school bell sounding has not been loud enough, September 24 of this year will be the first anniversary of the death of 16-year-old student Derron Albert, who was killed in mob fashion last year at Chicago’s Fenger High School.
The Chicago based Black Star Project in their Wednesday, September 1 net newsletter reports that 74 youths and children have been killed in Chicago during the eleven months since Derrion Albert died. “Why aren’t the good people of Chicago up in arms?” and “One year later, what had changed?” the headline reads.
The noted summation is that this Black community “decline” – particularly as same relates to the status of Black men – has actually been declining now for well over the past two, perhaps even three decades.
And culturally speaking, I can well enjoin with a multitude of other thinkers who would assert that this decline actually began on the plantation – another treatment for another time!
But when it comes to our children, this writer again wants to borrow from his own writings, pulling from the Lamya Cameron braid cutting incident.
A January 13, article on Lamya titled, “’Please Fight for Me!’ Cries out our children” inspired by words from my good friends Eric Grimes and Butch Slaughter in their book “Why Our Children Hate Us – How Black adults betray Black children.”
The authors share that our children “face particular challenges which often overwhelm their hope. However, the systemic social, educational and economic disadvantages of Black children are being responded to by silence from the Black adult community.
Our children need to see us stand for them and not against them in a world designed for their defeat.”
Taki S. Raton is a school consultant in the African Centered curriculum paradigm and creator of the Milwaukee Blyden Delany Academy school model. He is a writer and lecturer on the national stage detailing African World historiography, urban community issues with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male concerns. He can be reached for presentations and consultant arrangements at [email protected]