Grim graduation rates for black males highlight racial gap

theGRIO REPORT - Calling it a "national crisis," a recent report found that less than half of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year...

Are young black men ready for the increasingly brutal, knowledge-based job market in the U.S.? The answer is a resounding “no,” according to a new report, Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010. Calling it a “national crisis,” the report found that only 47 percent of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year.

The report’s authors also stated that the results of the eighth grade reading assessment test scores, which measure how many black males read at or above the proficiency level, “should set off alarm bells.” The “best” score was a dramatically low: 15 percent (Kentucky, New Jersey), and several states averaged only five percent (Mississippi, Nevada).

According to the report, ”(M)ore than twice as many black students are classified as ‘mentally retarded’ in spite of research demonstrating that the percentages of students from all groups are approximately the same at each intelligence level.” The report adds, “The persistent over-classification of black male students as ‘mentally retarded’ reflects, at best, a lack of professional development in this area for teachers and other staff.”

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At a time when more jobs require advanced knowledge of math and technology, more than four times as many white male students take advanced placement math and science courses as black males.

Read an analysis of this report with recommended solutions here

Another finding of the report is the apparent disparity between states providing opportunities for young black men to succeed. For example, the relative success and wealth of a town is not necessarily associated with positive performance a outcomes: only 22 percent of black high school males graduated from the Palm Beach County Florida public schools compared with 79 percent in Newark, New Jersey.

New Jersey is an example of what can happen when a state works to level the playing field. About 20 years ago, New Jersey’s highest court ruled in favor of a group that sued to equalize the funding between suburban and urban school districts. Since then, New Jersey’s less wealthy school districts have received substantially higher funding for kindergarten and pre-school programs, increased teacher training and more health and social services to address the needs of poor and lower-income children. The schools also upgraded facilities and improved security. In the current Schott report, all these measures were listed as “conditions for success.”

Dr. John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education — the organization that produced the study, stresses that the good news for currently cash-strapped states is not about throwing money at a school district, but how you use it:

“The significance of New Jersey’s success is their decision to more equitably distribute their educational resources to all of the districts and students who needed them the most, but also target those resources in areas that are proven effective—providing more access to early education, highly effective teachers and rigorous curricula.”

By contrast, the report states that based on low reading scores, “Minnesota, Nevada, and Mississippi appear to have particular difficulty in providing their black male students in Grade 8 with a basic education.”

The report also paints a depressing picture for large metropolitan areas. “The tragedy of the data is that the four major districts that are most challenged have the largest black male enrollment,” Jackson said. Philadelphia joins New York City in a 28 percent black male graduation rate and Chicago graduates less than half of its black males at 44 percent.

The report is primarily numbers-based and is meant to serve as a measuring tool and benchmark for states and educators. It does not delve into individual programs or cultural factors in the different states.

But at a time when cities and states are struggling with how to “reinvent” themselves in the new economy and how to lure companies to invest in their communities, it is clear that many states have not adequately invested the right resources into what should be one its greatest assets: An educated community.