A necessary rescue for boys of color

It’s baffling that some people in the District oppose the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. A few have decried itsfocus on black and Latino boys as too narrow and suggested that creating a single-gender high school is a return to the Jim Crow era.

“Isn’t this just plain segregation?” asked education advocate Terry Lynch in an e-mail. “I just do not understand this proposal or where it is going. We should be helping our youth at all our schools with effective programming.”

I grew up in the segregated South; the D.C. Public Schools initiative isn’t even close to my experience. Instead of inciting race and gender divisions or criticizing Henderson, District residents and public education advocates should join forces with her.

Education should be considered within the context of the first-response system. The work of teachers, administrators and principals is that critical to our children, especially black and Latino males.

Certainly, the statistics surrounding black and Latino males have been screaming: Nationally, black males, who make up 6 percent of the population, accounted for 43 percent of murder victims in 2011. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that same year thathomicide was the leading cause of death for blacks ages 15 to 34 . In 2012, black males were six times more likely to be imprisoned than white males;Hispanic males were two to three times more likely, according to the Justice Department.

In the District, males of color represent 43 percent of the DCPS student population. By the fourth grade, nearly 50 percent of them read below grade level. Only 57 percent of Hispanic males and 48 percent of black males graduate within the traditional four years, according to DCPS.

Those facts provide a clear view of the future for many of those students: juvenile detention, prison, unemployment, long-term residence in the country’s underclass.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education’s 2010 report found that “In the majority of U.S. states, districts, communities, and schools, the conditions necessary for black males to systemically succeed in education do not exist.”

“In fact, the data indicates that most systems contribute to the conditions in which black males have nearly as great a chance of being incarcerated as graduating,” the report added. In most urban school districts, the achievement gap between males of color and their white counterparts has widened.

The Schott report listed Detroit, where I was the emergency financial manager for public schools from 2009 to 2011, as one of the 10 lowest-performing large school districts for black males. Deploying radical and controversial reforms, my team and I reduced the dropout rate from 33 percent to 23 percent. Still, there was far more work to be done.

The DCPS initiative focuses on academic development, social-emotional development and family engagement, which may be the most important. When the involvement of parents in their children’s education has been active and consistent, the outcome has been predictably positive.

I am testament: I grew up on a plantation in southwest Louisiana. My family understood the role of education in the socioeconomic advancement of African Americans. My mother used Catholic readings and church documents to nurture in us a love for reading. My father wasn’t much of a reader; he was a numbers man. Most evenings after dinner, he quizzed us on what we had learned that day in school and took my sister and me through vigorous and intellectual challenges in math. While neither of my parents had a high school diploma, they ensured that my siblings and I succeeded academically, including graduating from college.

Henderson has promised a three-year, $20 million initiative. The money and time are insufficient for the task. But it’s a start.

No one should expect a miracle. It isn’t as if Henderson announced the construction of a building, where there is a groundbreaking and a certain date when the doors of a new facility will open. What she has proposed involves altering the trajectory of human lives. That is a heavy lift.

Instead of standing on the sidelines being unjustifiably critical, those of us who really care about children and the District’s future should lend crucial support. If we don’t, we are sure to bear the costs later.

The writer, a former president of the D.C. State Board of Education, a former emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools and a former D.C. city administrator under Mayor Anthony A. Williams, is the president and chief executive of the Robert Bobb Group, a municipal crisis management company.

Original Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-necessary-rescue-for-boys-of-color/2015/02/06/94f6b9c6-abe4-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html

Author: Robert C. Bobb

  • 2015
  • Feb, 06