This was written by Michael T. Nettles, senior vice president and the Edmund W. Gordon chair of the Educational Testing Service’s Policy Evaluation & Research Center. 

By Michael T. Nettles

Top educators, researchers and policy experts met to discuss the crisis facing the country's 3.5 million black boys under the age of 9 years and to discuss community programs that are having a positive impact on their lives.

The Educational Testing Service and the Children’s Defense Fund sponsored the achievement gap symposium, where CDF President Marian Wright Edelman described the life status of black males as:

“A toxic cocktail of poverty, illiteracy, racial disparities, violence, massive incarceration and family breakdown is sentencing millions of children to dead end and hopeless lives and threatens to undermine the past half century of racial and social progress.” 

Here are some startling and sad statistics about black males that reinforce the need for intervention with the young now, not later:

*Young black men in Philadelphia and Jefferson Parish in Louisiana face a higher chance of death by homicide than do military in Iraq.

*In February 2011, the unemployment rate for black males age 20 and over was nearly twice that of white males.

*Twenty-five percent of black households were “food insecure” in 2009, compared to 11 percent of white households.

*Black students are more likely than white students to have lower-quality teachers.

*Nearly two-thirds of black 2-year-olds were in regular non-parental care, compared to half of white children.

*The Infant Mortality Rate for blacks is 13.2 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for whites.

*The wealth gap between black and white Americans increased fourfold between 1984 and 2007, from $20,000 to $95,000.


Startling statistics to many indeed, but it’s the day-to-day reality for these Americans.  But in some areas, some people are effectively taking action to help.

One of the successful intervention efforts highlighted at the symposium was the CDF Freedom Schools® program which provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children learn to love to read, increases their self-esteem, and generates more positive attitudes toward learning.  

In the summer of 2010, CDF Freedom Schools sponsor partners served nearly 9,600 children in 84 cities and 29 states. Since 1995, over 80,000 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience and more than 9,000 college students, and 2,000 adult site coordinators and project directors have been trained to deliver this empowering model.

 In keeping with the approach of targeted interventions, ETS announced their support for the creation of the first all-black male CDF Freedom School with a grant to Communities in Schools of New Jersey (CISNJ). The grant will underwrite a unique program designed specifically for black boys grades 3 to 8, living in Newark, N. J.

All speakers and attendees agreed that early intervention is essential.

One program highlighted was the Delta Early Learning Program.  Rev. Anjohnette Yvonne Walker Gibbs described their three major programs: Delta Promise School; Sisterhood; and the Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker program. The last one utilizes trained paraprofessionals in the community to discuss child development and how parents can support their infants to three year olds meet milestones “on time.” And they connect new moms with much needed resources. Gibbs’ program is in its fourth year of operation and its success is growing.

There were many other interesting and stimulating presentations and programs highlighted. I invite readers to visit the Strong Start Symposium Web site www.ets.org/strongstart. In coming weeks most of the presentations will be posted there as well as video selections from the event. 

Freedom Schools, Delta Early Learning Program and the other programs mentioned are just a few examples of people making a difference. These efforts must be scaled up and/or replicated across the country to expand the benefits to the larger cohort.  Doing so will better benefit young black males and also our society as a whole. We cannot stand idly by knowing the above statistics – it is time for us to act.

One final note, at the symposium, the other recurring refrain we heard was that we don’t have a “child problem” we have an “adult problem.”  That problem is the desperate need for all adults, parents, educators, policymakers and others to get involved and solve this crisis.  We hope this symposium laid the groundwork for replacing the cradle to prison pipeline with a pipeline to college, work and a productive life for black boys.


Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!