Citing the epidemic in dropout rates for Black males in public schools, the Schott Foundation is joining other groups in calling for a national moratorium on school expulsions. With the release of its latest report, The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2012, the foundation highlights the need for dramatic and immediate interventions to stem the withdrawal of Black male students from public schools. With pending demographic changes in America pointing to the day when people of color will comprise the nation’s majority, the report points out the economic necessity of addressing the dropout crisis.
“We have a responsibility to provide future generations of Americans with the education and the skills needed to thrive in communities, the job market and the global economy. Yet, too many Black and Latino young boys and men are being pushed out and locked out of the U.S. education system or find themselves unable to compete in a 21st Century economy upon graduating,” said John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
According to the report only 52 percent of Black male ninth-graders graduate from high school four years later compared to 78 percent of white, non-Latino male ninth-graders. The crisis varies by state and public school systems. Among states with the largest Black enrollments North Carolina (58%), Maryland (57%), and California (56%) have the highest graduation rates for Black males. The success of those states in graduating Black males is in contrast to New York (37%), Illinois (47%) and Florida (47%), states with the lowest graduation rates. Among school districts with high school graduation rates for Black males exceeding the national rate is Montgomery County, MD (74%), Newark, NJ (74%), Cumberland County, NC (68%) and Baltimore County, MD (67%). Within the top ten states for Black male graduation rates, six of the districts are in Maryland or North Carolina. The lowest ranked districts for Black male high school graduation rates include Norfolk, VA (32%), Jackson, MS (28%), Cleveland, OH (28%) and New York City (28%). At the very bottom of the pile is the Rochester, New York district with a 9% Black male graduation rate. New York City’s low ranking is also noteworthy given the priority Mayor Michael Bloomberg has placed on education reform and his push to make high standards the centerpiece of those reforms.
There has been some progress, albeit small, toward improving the graduation rates of Black males, with 2010-11 the first year more than half of the nation’s ninth-grade Black males graduated with a regular diploma four years later. The report notes that though the national graduation rate for Black males has increased by ten percentage points since 2001-02, the graduation gap between Black male and white, non-Latino males has only closed three percentage points. According to the foundation, at this rate it would take 50 years for Black males to achieve the same high school graduation rates as their white male counterparts.
The report cites two phenomena driving the Black male dropout crisis, students being “pushed out” and “locked out.” The foundation contends thousands of students are being “pushed out” of public schools by policies that encourage out-of-school suspensions of Black males as a default disciplinary tactic that often leads to permanent expulsions. The report notes that one out of every six African-American students (17%) in the state sample were suspended at least once in 2009-10, compared to one in twenty white students (5%). Those “locked out” are excluded from well-resourced schools and denied access to teachers in schools with the supports necessary to help Black males succeed in the classroom according to the report.
Given these obstacles, the foundation is calling for a shift from the current focus on standards-driven reforms in public education to a more balanced approach that includes an emphasis on support-based reforms that would provide assistance to Black male students. By endorsing a moratorium on school expulsions, the Schott Foundation is lending its credibility to a movement that is working against the popular test-centered focus of school reform. Since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act, and continuing under the current Race to the Top initiative under the Obama administration, rigorous testing and high academic standards has been pushed as the route to academic achievement. Despite the general agreement that a more challenging curriculum is necessary to elevate performance, the findings of the Schott Foundation’s most recent report illustrates that testing alone is not sufficient to improve educational outcomes for young Black men. One of the recommendations being made in the report is for states to adopt “Personal Opportunity Plans” for Black male students modeled after a requirement in North Carolina that schools create customized “Personal Education Plans” for at-risk students. The idea is being advanced by the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign.
The Urgency of Now also provides the following recommendations for improving graduation rates for young Black and Latino men:
End the rampant use of out-of-school suspensions as a default disciplinary action, as it decreases valuable learning time for the most vulnerable students and increases dropouts.
Expand learning time and increase opportunities for a well-rounded education including the arts, music, physical education, robotics, foreign language, and apprenticeships.
States and cities should conduct a redlining analysis of school funding, both between and within districts, and work with the community and educators to develop a support-based reform plan
with equitable resource distribution to implement sound community school models.
To read the full Schott Foundation report click here.