Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Education: The Problem And The Solution

By Keenan Mann

Here are a few statistics on educational achievement (the lack thereof actually) that may not surprise you, but are nonetheless discouraging:

  • 54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white
  • and Asian students.
  • Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.
  • On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white
  • eighth-grade students.
  • The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than
  • those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.
  • Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.

Now add to those educations statistics a few about unemployment.  (Note the numbers are little dated, but the ratios still hold):

  • The unemployment rate for White Americans is 5.7% while the unemployment rate for African Americans is 12.2%.
  • Overall workers from age 16 to 19 have an unemployment rate of 20.7%.
  • White workers in the same age cohort have an unemployment rate of 17.5%.
  • Blacks in that cohort have an unemployment rate of 38%.

And finally, add to those numbers this bit of information about who occupies the nation's prisons and jails:

The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of

color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of
educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.

The numbers above are appalling and should be cause for national (not race based) outrage and actions like the kind that seems to occur every time a young black male gets shot and killed by a police officer (normally a white one, but any color will do).  Those incidents spawn weeks long protests, bring out the who's who of race relations, and also give birth to slogans that are meant to capture the essence of the unrest.  Two that come to mind from recent events are, "I Can't Breathe", which became a momentary t-shirt craze and the "Black Lives Matter" slogan that has gotten at least a few public figures, who dared claim that all lives matter, in hot water.

Oh and on the police killings, I have another data point.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there are 1240 justifiable homicides each year.  The estimate assumes that non-reporting agencies have the same homicide rate as reporting agencies.  That's definitely a big number, justifiable or not. But when you consider the fact that there are a combined 50 million kids attending public primary and secondary schools in conjunction with the education statistics cited earlier, a shift in priorities might seem in order.

To be clear, let me say that I'm not at all minimizing the significance of anyone being killed by anyone else, police officer or not,  but if the same kind of sustained outrage was directed towards getting better educational outcomes, there might be a whole lot less outrage at police shootings because there might be fewer of them.  

Again, there's rage over dead black kids and men at the hands of police officers, but where's the rage over the figurative walking dead that bad schools are pumping out in the form of the poorly educated?  In large numbers, these poorly educated will either drop out, or remain stuck on the lower economic rungs of society, or end up in jail, or end up dead (prematurely) at the hands of police or members of their own communities.  So let's get organized and get after the big problems that are perpetuated by the defenders of the status quo within the educational system.   That means groups like inflexible school boards and teacher's unions.

In the area of slogans, we  don't have to start from scratch.  There are many in existence that we can adapt to our own purposes.  To that end, in the "Black Lives Matter" slogan, let's also dare to change "Black" to "All". And let's get a t-shirt out there that speaks to seriousness of our cause.  I like this one and I bet it'll get their attention:

Who's with me?


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