Report: U.S. K-12 Schools Failing To Educate Black Males - Higher Education
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Report: U.S. K-12 Schools Failing To Educate Black Males

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Despite the occasional success in closing the achievement gap, America’s K-12 educational system does a wholly inadequate job of educating Black males, as evidenced in large disparities in the graduation rate between Black males and their White counterparts.

So says a new report being released today from the Cambridge, Mass.-based Schott Foundation for Public Education.

“The harsh reality is that systemically most states and too many districts don’t provide the necessary, targeted resources or supports for all students’ educational success,” Schott Foundation president John H. Jackson states in the report, titled Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. “We have too often settled for the sweet taste of minor success over stomaching the bitter taste of the reality that without systemic reform we are winning some battles, but largely still losing the war.”

The report singled out New Jersey as the only state with a significant Black male population with a higher than 65 percent high school graduation rate and attributed this to the greater per pupil spending and instructional time that came about as a result of the  Abbot v. Burke lawsuit filed by the Education Law Center. The 1981 lawsuit claimed the state had failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to students in poor, urban school districts.

The Schott report singled out six states—New York, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana—as having the worst graduation outcomes based on a mathematical formula known as the Schott Education Inequity Index, which ranks states by subtracting the graduation rate among Black males from 100 percent, then adding that amount to the difference, or the “gap,” in graduation rates between Black males and White males.

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The Schott report, including its remedies and overall framework, drew varying degrees of both criticism and praise from education experts and commentators familiar with the Schott approach.

Ellen Winn, director of the Education Equality Project, says she keeps the annually-released Schott report on Black males on her desk because of its value as a resource tool for those concerned with closing the achievement gap.

“They are telling the honest story about what’s going on with African-American boys in our country, which is horrendous,” Winn said. “Too often that tragic story can get hidden.”

However, Janks Morton, a Washington, D.C.-based author, filmmaker whose work deals primarily with Black men and boys in the United States, criticized the report for its emphasis on Black educational deficits.

Morton is known for his public repudiation of the widespread belief that there are more Black men in prison than in college, a claim that gets repeated in the latest Schott report, which states “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.”

“They really uplift and expose the less desirable portions of the negative statistics about Black boys,” said Morton, who has studied previous Schott reports on public education and Black males. “That garners a lot of attention and support.”

Morton said the low graduation rates among Black males can be complicated by other factors, such as Black single parents moving out of school districts and thus making it appear as if their child has dropped out. He also said many Black male students ultimately graduate from high school but not in the conventional manner or timeframe. Morton said by emphasizing the educational deficits of Black males, the Schott Foundation appeals to a certain ethos in American culture in which privileged individuals like to see themselves as heroic rescuers of the less fortunate.

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Schott Foundation president John H. Jackson said the report is meant to illustrate how America’s school system is systematically disenfranchising Black males.

“Whenever you see a trend that is identifiable by race and gender, then we have to ask questions around the systemic challenges,” Jackson said. “So the fact that you see 46 out of 50 states, you see the Black male at the bottom of graduation indicators, seems to indicate to me beyond just personal drive.”

“There’s a need for resources by which this population can be successful,” Jackson continued. “If it’s just a matter of personal drive, we shouldn’t be able to identify by race or ethnicity who has more or less.”

However, Morton says one factor that explains racial disparities in educational achievement is whether children are being raised in single- or two-parent households. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids County Data Center, 65 percent of Black children are being raised in single-parent households versus 23 percent of White children.

“Basically, those (children) from two-parent homes outperform those from single-parent homes, hands down,” Morton said.

Morton also took exception to the report’s recommendation for greater resources to be invested in public education as a means of narrowing the achievement gap.

“The highest per capita expenditures in this country are African-American urban districts,” Morton said, using D.C.’s public school system as an example where poor outcomes for Black students persist despite the fact that it has one of the highest rates of per pupil spending in the country–$16,353 in fiscal 2008, second only to New Jersey, which spent $17,620 the same year, and far beyond the average $10,978 that high-poverty urban districts spent in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

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“They’re getting money,” Morton said. “The problem is that the bureaucracy, teachers unions and other functions of that system do not allow for the trickle down that it’s intended for, and that’s the students.”

Winn, of the Education Equality Project, agreed that greater investments don’t necessarily lead to better outcomes.

“Unfortunately, that’s not really the case,” Winn said.

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