Public education continues to fail African American children with little public outcry and those who do protest strongly are often ostracized by the education establishment. Meanwhile, as has been the case for at least the past fifty years, there are no effective, sustained protests of the pervasive miseducation of Black children. This speaks volumes about Black leadership, in general, and educational leadership in particular. It is also an indictment of those parents and community members who, despite the education establishment’s severe damage to their children’s lives, have not mounted sustainable protests or held schools accountable. Neither neglect nor indifference adequately describes the egregious fallout from systemic barriers and adults failing their responsibility to demand a quality education for Black students.
Proclamations of concern and rhetorical protests are also insufficient because they have not involved sustained concrete action. African Americans’ failure to challenge public education’s dismal record, as related to Black children, is unacceptable. The ramifications of combined systemic and community neglect include, excessive dropouts (pushouts), early criminalization and disproportionate low-wage unskilled Black workers.
This unfortunate litany is not challenged consistently, and Black students’ “failures” are often considered the norm in the inner city. However, Black children are bright, talented, and creative and we must demand their potential be developed to the fullest.
Student achievement is the goal, or should be, for all educators and all schools. Too many people believe poor student achievement is the result of problems inherent in the students themselves. Another myth is that all students are taught basically the same things, but some, especially African Americans and other students of color, somehow manage to learn less. As the Achievement Council reported decades ago in “Unfinished Business”: “Fulfilling Our Children’s Promise,” the facts do not support the myth that all students are taught the same things. Actually, they are taught less of everything officials believe makes a positive difference is put into the education of Black students: Less experienced and well-trained teachers, less instructional time, less rich and well-balanced curricula, dilapidated facilities, and most important, a crippling belief that Black students cannot learn.
The 21st century rolled in on a sea of rhetoric about improving education throughout the nation—probably because U.S. students continue to fall behind those in other so-called developed nations. California is among the leaders in hyperbole about educational reform. In California, even governors and Los Angeles mayors have proclaimed education reform a top priority. However, such proclamations, and related policy proposals, have not improved educational outcomes for Black students. And there is little evidence they will benefit from current education reform efforts.
Teacher improvement criteria, including recruitment, preparation, selection and training, adequate facilities, sufficient textbooks and sustainable direct parent participation, are all critical in the education process, especially in inner city schools with substantial Black student populations. Achievement is universally considered the “bottom line,” i.e., the ultimate indicator of educational success. And the controversy over teacher evaluation and testing vs. student performance rages on.
Tragically, Black students lag behind in virtually every category, even though educators, and everyone else, understand the Black child has as much potential for learning and achievement as any other. This is not taken into account in their test scores or- and this is often overlooked- their life and educational environment. Even previously non-English-speaking students, within a few years, perform better than African American students. That’s unacceptable
Continuing educational inequities and the achievement patterns to which they give rise pose a serious threat to all students, but especially Black students. During the past half century, most new jobs in California, like the rest of the country, require education beyond high school, as well as greater technological training and expertise. It is well known, however, that California spends more and more on the consequences of its failure to educate poor Black and Latino students.
California does have some predominantly African American and other “minority” high achieving schools. Invariably, these schools have sustainable and direct parent involvement and broad community support, proving that change is possible, even under the most challenging conditions. But many of these success stories were, and are, mostly, short-lived and not reflective of districtwide priorities.
Top-down accountability systems are needed wherein schools are obligated to mount sustained efforts to improve achievement among all students, but especially students of color from low-income families. State and local officials must be held accountable for requiring that across-the-board accountability happens. Improvements in recruitment, selection and training of teachers and administrators are also critical. And, an expanded role for parents and community organizations must be part of all education reform efforts.
Finally, African American students are subjected to the so-called “race card” every day of their lives, even though white people play the race card every day of their lives, with impunity. And white conservatives, especially, promote wrongheaded opposition to any and all efforts that strongly challenge the continuing oppression of Blacks and other people of color.
Now, more than ever, we must remain keenly aware because of continuing systemic barriers that reinforce, for us, an oppressive status quo. This is done in many ways, one of which is America’s double standard—one for whites, and one for African Americans and other people of color. Of course, all of these barriers are manifestations of racism and remain detrimental, not only to the success of Black students, but the future of the Black community itself.