It is an incontrovertible truth: public education in America is failing black students. This summer's report from the Schott Foundation demonstrated how badly; in New York City, only 28% of New York City’s black males graduated on time in 2007-08, while 50% of whites did. The Council of the Great City Schools more recent report ‘A Call for Change’ indicates that less than one in every eight black boys is proficient in reading and math by the fourth grade. White boys were 3-4 times more successful than their black peers on national assessment exams. Most distressing was the news that white boys who live in poverty performed just as well on the exams as black boys who do not live in poverty.
America is built on a basic idea: that all children have an equal opportunity to live their dreams. These reports make painfully clear that the real achievement gap is the one between our idea of America and our reality -- at least as it exists for black boys. And these racial disparities are not limited to education; they exist in all of the systems we have developed to support children in need. For example, racial disparities in the child welfare system are well documented. A recent National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (2010) found that black parents are more likely to be reported for child neglect, even though black parents are less likely to abuse and neglect their children than white parents. This was true even when controlling for poverty. Investigation rates of black parents are also higher than that of white parents, and blacks are less likely to receive preventive services and more likely to lose their children to foster care. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that, once abuse and neglect was affirmed, black children were thirty-six percent more likely than whites to be placed in foster care.
In New York City, police officers engage in a stop-and-frisk policy which affects blacks at a much higher rate than whites. According to a Columbia University report, blacks were nine times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites between 2004 and 2009. However, these stops were no more likely to yield the arrest of a black individual than a white one. Policies like stop-and-frisk that push the limits of the law contribute to the disproportionate involvement of black youth in the justice system. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that the chance of a black male born in 2001 of going to jail is 32% while white males have a 6% chance.
This is an economic and a political crisis. Economically, we simply cannot afford the lost human potential represented by generations of black boys denied the opportunity to live to their truest potential. In a global economy rife with competition, we need all hands on deck. More importantly, how can we as a nation continue to thrive when, over 55 years after Brown v Board of Education, there is such an obvious disconnect between America's constitutional values and our educational practice? Income inequality is at an its highest level since the census bureau began tracking household income in 1967, and intergenerational mobility in the US is lower than nearly all Western nations. Our nation is becoming more fractured. This cannot continue.
Sadly, as much as we know about the types of interventions that are required to prevent tragic outcomes, we largely ignore them. From their earliest years, black children need mentors, effective schools, health care and family support to succeed. They need a commitment that those institutions that were conceived to build them up will stop tearing them down.
Richard R. Buery, Jr.
President and CEO
The Children's Aid Society
Follow Richard Buery on Twitter: @RichardBueryCAS