Achievement Gap in Public Schools Sets Black Students Back

By Langston Bowles-Fulmore

Special from Louisiana Weekly

( – Young people are the future of the country, and African-American students are not being presented the same opportunities to become leaders when looking at current education policy. If future leaders cannot read and do math, the country will not flourish. Those were the insights of John B. King Jr., who spoke about the state of Black education at Xavier University.

King is the current president and the chief executive officer of The Education Trust and a former U.S. Secretary of Education. Last month’s event was organized by 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans’ Young Professionals.

“There is progress to celebrate but there is still a long distance to travel,” King explained. “The high school graduation rate is as high as it has ever been and there is still a huge gap between Blacks and whites,” he said.

Roughly 1.6 million students attend a high school that has a sworn law enforcement officer but no counselor, King said. Often, society thinks the solution to problems in the African-American community is incarceration, King said. Society calls getting out of jail a second chance, but how can people have a second chance in life if they never had the opportunity to have a first chance, King asked. Even the best teacher, he said, cannot help a student if they are not in class.

“We spend less money on kids who need more and more on kids who need less,” King said.

It is hard to imagine young Black people becoming something that they cannot see. “[The] majority of kids in public schools are people of color but only 18 percent of teachers of color work in the public school system, and only two percent of our teachers are African-American men,” said King.

He believes that this is part of the problem and why African Americans have the lowest graduation rate from high school at 75 percent. Which is an all time high but compared to the 88 percent graduation rates of whites is not acceptable, said King.

“We are aware how well we teach our students, but we are also aware of how we fail,” said C. Reynold Verret, Xavier’s president who attended the address. “HBCUs do a good job of putting people in positions that students would want to have,” King said.

Nationally, nearly 75 percent of African Americans attend schools where the majority of students are of color. Nearly 40 percent of Black students attend schools with student bodies that are 10 percent or less white.

Sixty percent of four-year-olds in America are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs. Some may say this is not a big deal, King noted, however it is easier to learn things when you are younger.

A study was done last year by the National Center for Education Statistics that showed that on a fourth grade math performance, by race, the African-American community had 35 percent of students falling below basic math. This is three times more than the performance of white students who fell below basic math. “Up until third grade you learn how to read, after third grade you read to learn,” King said.

“In American society, racism is like water,” King said. “75 percent of white people have a social network full of only white people,” King said.

So even though a white person and an African American person may live in the same city, white families have no idea what it is like to be African American.

Some critics argue college is not for everyone, and although this may be true for some, it doesn’t mean Black students shouldn’t be offered the same education as students who want to go to college, King said. “In a low-income school, Advance Placement classes are not offered,” according to King.

King said, “If we want something to change, it is up to us to make it change, and unless we change who is in Congress and State legislation, things won’t change.”

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