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.
Comments in response to our July 24 column, surrounding black and Latino student underrepresentation at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, or TJ, in Fairfax County prompted an intense discussion concerning student preparedness for admission to that acclaimed public school.
The dozens of comments illustrate a boiling cauldron of distress regarding school admissions criteria and whether the lawsuit by the NAACP filed against the school system was a fair one. Along with a
small group of parents, the group alleged that the school system shuts black and Latino students out of TJ because the system fails to identify these students for gifted-education programs that begin in elementary school. The views that were expressed on the topic reveal strong support on both sides. I argued that the NAACP and other groups should focus attention on better preparation by black families and the black community as a whole.
Advocacy for continued high standards at TJ resonated prominently in the discussion “This in essence comes down to value and priorities of communities and parents within the community,” wrote craet, a commentor.
Many said we must continue to push for fairness and racial inclusion. “People who champion inclusion, parity and level playing venues in our classrooms are not begging or pleading but we are engaging the very systems which create and yield inferior educational outcomes for our offspring.” wrote a poster named Greg Thrasher. I support both in concept.
But where’s the balance?
Civil rights organizations, the NAACP in particular, have played a central role in demanding equal and fair treatment of all citizens in America for more than 100 years now. We are all beneficiaries of those efforts. To be honest, had America lived up to its initial pronouncements in its founding documents that “All Men are Created Equal,” organizations like the NAACP and others would not exist. It didn’t, so here we are, centuries later, still besieged with matters of race, fairness, and access.
The impact of the minority achievement gap extends far beyond TJ.
According to a 2010 McKinsey & Company Report, academic underachievement costs the black and Latino communities between $310 and $525 billion every year in lost economic development possibilities.
Clearly, the stakes could not be higher in ensuring that our young people can compete equally, thereby guaranteeing the aforementioned access.
I have no issue with organizations questioning why our students are not represented at high performing schools in Virginia or anywhere else. But I think it does the legacy of the NAACP a disservice when we fail to pose those same questions to black parents and to our students themselves. In my estimation, much of what has been accomplished by these organizations is being taken for granted.
As an educator in several school systems over the past 25 years, it has been agonizing to watch as so many of our students have foregone tremendous opportunities that the NAACP and others sacrificed to deliver. There is no question that black students can meet the performance standards. We see them do it everyday despite enormous challenges.
Yet, I contend that the answers to the issue at hand is far less about TJ than it is about preparing our students to compete academically. The National Education Association has warned us for years now that African American students enter kindergarten nearly a full two years behind their white and Asian counterparts. That’s at age 6. As they matriculate through the system they fall even farther behind.
Preparation for admission to schools like TJ must begin well before the child enters the public school system. Waiting until age 6 to launch their formal education program is proving to be far too late.
Issues concerning today’s African American youth are not borne out of the same struggles of the past. Admittedly, the NAACP and others, have labored for, and delivered a playing field that is far more level than ever before. Our children enjoy rights, privileges, and access to opportunities that were denied even as recently as a generation ago. Still, too many fail to take these prospects seriously.
Given that the achievement gap dilemma is not as evident in immigrant black students, we must question why the most privileged black kids on the planet, namely African Americans, cannot compete equally? They can, but somehow they have been convinced that they don’t need to.
The greatest challenge for our civil rights organizations is speaking the plain yet painful truth to their membership: that we have let our kids off the hook for high scholastic performance. Our kids are some of the poorest performing subgroup in school today. This fact must be addressed if we are to realize the hopes and dreams of past generations who sacrificed all for the opportunities that our kids now casually dismiss.
With that, here’s our starting point. Begin by enrolling our students in world class academic competitions. They must be made to realize the competitive nature of education today. There are programs in every conceivable discipline and they are sponsored all over the country’s most with lucrative scholarships.
For a list of these competitions go to www.alfonzoporter.com for free download.
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