Just as educators often remember the truly excellent students who go on to great success, everyone who teaches will also meet up with students who exemplify every single concern and fear that we as a society have about education. I will never forget one student in one of my classes. He had returned to school after serving several years in prison for dealing drugs, and he was enthusiastically committed to changing his life.
I watched him struggle all semester, because he had a very low literacy level and didn’t understand the reading. He had dropped of high school and lacked even the most rudimentary abilities to interpret information and communicate his ideas in written form. Week after week, I returned his low-scoring assignments, asking him to make an appointment with me so that I could assist his learning, direct him to the proper support services, and express my concerns. He never came. He just continued to show up for class, and invariably left angry, dejected, and discouraged nearly every day. Needless to say, he failed the course.
My story will not surprise anyone who teaches in today’s high schools and community colleges. We all have similar students. By the time they come to us at the college level, so much damage has already been done that it seems impossible to affect any change.
The Schott Foundation Report
The sad reality is that this student, no matter how well-intentioned, never had a chance. The deck was stacked against him from the start. That is the clear conclusion of latest report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. The Schott Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports and coordinates programs designed to create more equal educational conditions and opportunities in the United States. In “The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” the Foundation reported that Black males are “the least likely to secure a regular diploma four years after beginning high school” and this has not changed since 2004. In addition:
- Nationally only 52% of Black males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school in four years, while 78% of White, non-Latino males graduate in four years.
- Though the graduation rate for black males has increased from 41% to 52% in the past ten years, at this rate of increase, “it would take nearly 50 years for Black males to secure the same high school graduation rates as their White male peers.”
- “On average, states with low graduation rates for Black male students (New York, Nebraska, South Carolina, Delaware, Illinois, Florida) tend to have concentrations of those students in under-resourced districts (New York City, Charleston, Duval County, FL and Chicago) where both Black and White male students perform poorly.”
- “States with relatively small Black populations achieve high graduation rates for Black male students (Maine, Utah, Vermont, Idaho). This seems to indicate that Black males, on average, perform better in places and spaces where they are not relegated to under-resourced districts or schools. When provided similar opportunities they are more likely to produce similar or better outcomes as their White male peers.”
Why is This Data Important?
This information horrifies, saddens, and angers me, because I know it played a role in the failure of the student I described above, who is African American. As a believer in democracy and proponent of public education, I know what it means. It means we are failing to ensure the futures of millions of students and instead dooming them to the lowest rungs of society, no matter what talents and abilities they might actually have. The solutions we have proposed and enacted in recent years, the Schott Report’s results suggest, have not worked. Instead, they have created a “push-out crisis,” in which the most at-risk students are “pushed out” of the education system for various reasons. As summarized by Global Policy Solutions, the Schott Report shows 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. Many who remain in schools are locked out of systems with well-resourced schools and where teachers have the training, mentoring, administrative support, supplies, and the facilities they need to provide our children with a substantive opportunity to learn.”
This creates a significant crisis, because these students then fail to graduate. As the Schott report explains, a high school diploma “represents the point at which Black males can secure a high school diploma on par with their White male peers; economically it represents the point at which they will be equally equipped to secure post-secondary educational and labor opportunities available as a result of possessing a high school diploma.”
How Do We Solve This Problem?
As a result of this information, the Schott Foundation has joined the efforts of Solutions Not Suspensions (SNS), which embraces a “Keep ‘em in, don’t kick them out” ethos, arguing for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions. “Every year,” their website reports, “3.3 million students in the United States are suspended from school, causing them to miss critical learning time, as well as opportunities to grow and succeed.” Instead, SNS is working with the Dignity in Schools and the National Opportunity to Learn campaigns to help schools find more effective ways of disciplining unruly or troublesome students, and keep them on the academic path.
Maybe we also need to focus on solutions outside of academic skills. Curtis Black recently updated readers on different approaches now being tried in Chicago. Disturbed by the characterization of Chicago as a “dropout epicenter” by Education Week, he reports that students there believe they are not dropping out of school as much as being pushed out of it. To counter this, neighborhood organizations and the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University will hold a panel discussion on October 16 to explore the “school to prison pipeline.” The event will conclude with a Day of Expression event in which young people can learn about education rights, and participate in an open mike event.
One of the main themes of these events will be the way in which the district’s zero tolerance discipline policies, school privatization, and underfunded and poorly supported schools with few resources contribute to the pushout crisis. According to Black,
“The events are being coordinated with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a national coalition including the ACLU, Children’s Defense Fund, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with local organizations, aimed at “refram[ing] the debate around school discipline from one that favors the punishment and exclusion of children and youth who have been failed by unsafe and underperforming schools to one based on human rights — respecting every child’s right to an education.”
Clearly, the pushout or dropout crisis is multi-causal. No single solution is going to work. (though starting with more teachers and smaller classrooms with more one-on-one teaching would be a good start.) Something must be done. When I look out into my students’ faces, I want to see enthusiasm and hope for the future—in all of those faces, no matter what their skin color.