Yes We Can!

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Richard R. Buery, Jr.: Schott details ‘shocking divide between American ideal of equal opportunity and actual practice’ 

Receiving a high school diploma should be a rite of passage, just the start of a young person’s journey, not the result of overcoming immense odds. For a country whose core principles include equal opportunity and racial justice, the results found in the new Schott Foundation report, “Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010,” represent a tragedy of the highest proportion. In stark detail, the report presents a picture of an American education system that is systemically failing Black males.

While much has been written about the achievement gap between Black and white students, the report is a striking illustration of these inequities. It portrays “a U.S. system of denied opportunities for Black males;” it paints an awful picture of wasted potential. New York City is one of the five worst performing districts in the country with large Black male student enrollment. Only 28% of New York City’s Black males enrolled in high schools (in 2007-08) graduated on time with Regents diplomas. (In contrast, 50% of white males did.) Each year, 100,000 Black male students in New York City do not graduate from high school with their cohort. The report delves into the terrible details for school districts around the country.

The report articulates “Conditions for Success;” a list of basic preconditions for educational success. These conditions, such as equitable resources, high quality universal pre-school, new or renovated facilities, programs to address needs attributable to poverty, and state accountability, are so fundamental that it is extraordinary that they still have to be laid out as a preamble to closing the achievement gap.

I’m proud to say that The Children’s Aid Society has a range of initiatives that meet these Conditions for Success, creating a framework for young Black boys – and all the children we serve – to strive for bright futures and fulfill their promise. Our high quality early childhood programs provide a strong foundation for our youngest students, with early literacy activities and parental involvement allowing them to begin their educations on a more level playing field. The supports offered by Children’s Aid’s community schools – including afterschool programs, academic enrichment, health services and arts and recreation – ensure that students are physically, emotionally and socially ready to learn. Recently granted “Top Tier” status by The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy because of its proven ability to reduce teenage births, the Children’s Aid Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program works by providing pre-teens and teens with a vision of a full life that doesn’t include teen pregnancy, but does include academic achievement, work and developing talents and interests.

Our African American Male Initiative (AAMI), a program that works to improve educational outcomes for this vulnerable population has had very promising outcomes. Now entering its fourth year, 100% of the boys in the program, currently in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades, have been promoted to the next grade for each of its three years. This is stunning when one considers that 31.6% of Black boys in the U.S. will be retained one grade by age 11. The AAMI model employs Life Coaches for each student as well as other supports for the boys and their parents. AAMI was launched with support for The Charles Hayden Foundation, and The Black Male Donor Collaborative (BMDC) has just awarded AAMI a $100,000 grant. (The Schott Foundation administers and coordinates the BMDC.) We are extremely grateful to the Black Male Donor Collaborative for its support of AAMI. Though small, AAMI hopefully will be a beacon for those who seek examples of interventions with Black male students that work. I am reminded of Langston Hughes’ famous complaint and promise: “O, let America be America again-- The land that never has been yet-- And yet must be--the land where every man is free.” These shocking statistics highlight the great divide between the American ideal of equal opportunity and America’s actual practice. We know how to solve the achievement gap. Nationwide, initiatives large and small are meeting the conditions of success every day. The question for our nation is whether we take the American ideal seriously. Will we invest the resources necessary to bring these initiatives to scale and ensure that Black men – over 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education – finally have access to an equal education? Or will we lose yet another generation of Black men to what has been America’s tragic reality?

Richard R. Buery, Jr.

President and CEO
The Children’s Aid Society

Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS