Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
When the Schott Foundation for Public Education published its latest national report on graduation rates in the United States, the
announcement of a significant increase in black male students completing high school was at once welcomed, encouraging and surprising news.
Indeed, since 2002, America’s public schools saw a 10 percent increase in the numbers of black boys completing school in four years with their class in 2011. According to the report, 52 percent of black male students were able to graduate on time.
So, where is this coming from and what accounts for this seemingly sudden escalation in the graduation rates of black males over the past decade?
For some, the increase may be attributable, in large measure, to programs advanced under the No Child Left Behind Act. Additional supplemental programs for struggling students, such as free tutoring and graduation recovery programs using the latest in educational technology, can be credited with providing interventions prior to dropping out while simultaneously initiating effective outreach efforts to bring students back after they have left school prematurely.
Connections Academy, Apex Learning, K-12 Virtual and other programs have become national models for drop-out recovery among at-risk populations. Also, many school systems are quickly moving to more blended learning strategies involving a hybrid approach of school-based and online instruction. These options appear to be an attractive alternative for a student who would otherwise not complete high school.
The anywhere, anytime aspect of virtual and blended learning models has begun to bear fruit, particularly as far as black male students are concerned. Students around the country are being exposed to online learning at the high school level in increasing numbers. This has been an effective way to engage students and allow them to work at their own pace.
Around the Washington region, the news is a bit more encouraging, however. Maryland was 5 percentage points above the national average, at 57 percent.
Also, Montgomery County public schools lead the nation, with 74 percent of its black male students graduating in four years (more than 91 percent of its white male students graduate on time). In the District, only 38 percent of black male students and 88 percent of white male students graduated on time with their class in 2011. Prince George’s County saw 55 percent of black male students and 60 percent of white male students finishing in four years. In Baltimore, the numbers are 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
Although the numbers in the Schott study are encouraging and trending upward, the report goes on to say that at the current pace, it will take more than 50 years to reach parity with white students. Black male students are still solidly behind every other student subgroup when it comes to graduation.
After more than 30 years of watching our black boys gravitate toward the most harmful, negative and destructive images of black manhood that mass media, particularly the recording industry, could invoke, this decade’s long toll of being constantly touted as thugs, hustlers, gangsters and pimps has had a deleterious impact on their academic prospects.
The late John Ogbu and other educational researchers have long held that identity and academic success are closely aligned. Therefore, failure in school has been interpreted by many African American boys as some form of attempting to formulate a personal identification.
Ogbu’s research asserts that by demonstrating an opposition to cultural norms that have traditionally been hostile to their long-term success, black men maintained a claim of solidarity to their communities. We are all familiar with the phrase “keeping it real,” ubiquitously touted in contemporary urban vernacular.
Yet, in representative fashion, black leaders are heaving wild, unsubstantiated suppositions at school districts that suggest some evil, malicious plot designed to throw black and Latino boys out of school.
For example, John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation on Public Education, cites the need to address what he is calling a “push out” and “lockout” crisis in our education system.
Jackson further asserts that, “blacks and Latinos face disproportionate rates of out-of-school suspensions and are not consistently receiving sufficient learning time — effectively being pushed out of opportunities to succeed.”
As an educator, I insist that some of these young men are pushing themselves out by engaging in behaviors that do not comport with the well-established standards required to receive an adequate education. How can we teach when they refuse to learn?
When black students are provided with the same resources, the same teachers and the same facilities, and live in the same communities, yet continue to drop out at much higher rates than other student sub-groups, can we continue to blame the schools? Or is there some fundamental flaw in the student’s primary support system? Why can’t we demand, legislate if needed, more cooperation from home?
So, when does the school’s responsibility to students end and personal responsibility begin? Black boys are not failing to complete their free, compulsory public education because they are unwanted in public schools. They are not failing because they closely follow the widely publicized prescriptions for success in school. Our black boys are failing because they are following the lead of other black boys and men who incessantly inform their actions to rebel against a good education.
Most teachers fully embrace the concept of in loco parentis, Latin for “in place of the parent.” From my vantage point, however, many appear to believe that the schools, not parents, should bear the majority of the responsibility for student success. Therein lies the disconnect and the ultimate failure.
Black and Latino children younger than 18 are poised to become a majority of all children in U.S. schools by the end of the decade. Without legitimate remedies to address this crisis, many of these young people will be locked out of incredible opportunities to contribute to their communities, thereby robbing the nation of their sorely needed promise.
In the end, for school districts around the nation, the goal is not for our students to have to beat the odds, but rather to change the odds.