03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Educational Crisis Faces Minority Males

Once hailed for our superiority in education, the United States is losing ground internationally when it comes to providing our students with quality schooling. The College Board's launch this week of its report on "The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color" clearly states that if the current trajectory continues, especially among men of color, the overall education level of the overall American workforce will slowly but steadily decline. The decline will be most apparent by 2020, the year President Obama set for restoring America's global standing as the leader in young adults with post secondary degrees. At a time when America's global economic competitiveness is slipping, we cannot afford to let our workforce fall further behind or fail to equip them with the skills and schooling necessary to be successful.

Men of color significantly trail behind most students on achievement and school completion scales. African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American men are outperformed by their female counterparts in each racial grouping by 9%, 9%, 7%, and 2 %, respectively. Few young men of color, furthermore, make it beyond high school. Only 26 percent of African Americans, 24 percent of Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 18 percent of Hispanic Americans have, at minimum, an associate's degree.

There are a host of reasons why we must address this crisis and quickly. By educating young men of color, we address income disparities and racial inequalities, we increase the competitiveness of America's workforce, we increase our tax base, we give the skills needed to achieve their maximum potential, and we provide sustainable alternatives to the myriad of ill-fated options that youth tilt towards today.

Addressing this crisis requires not only that we improve school quality, teacher quality, and funding inequities, but that we initiate a broader conversation about poverty, family structure, parenting skills, and the lack of investment in minority communities. Additionally, and unique to young men of color, are the destructive social pressures undercutting minority male aspirations. While all young American men no doubt face an aggressive culture that expects them to confirm to being "cool," "macho," or "warriors," these pressures are particularly pervasive among minority males. Among many African American, Hispanic American and Native American minority males, school is not a high priority, leading many youth to search for respect outside of school walls.

Asian American males, conversely, struggle with the stereotype of being a "model minority," implying that this minority group has successfully overcome obstacles. This ignores the diverse disadvantages that some Asian American ethnic subsets face. While Asian Americans are over-represented in the top scores, they are also over-represented in the bottom scores. The proportion of Southeast Asian adults, for example, who have not completed high school, is nearly three times greater than the national average. By grouping together students from vastly different backgrounds under the Asian American umbrella, it is easy to miss the unique stresses facing Asian subgroups.

Considering that minorities are projected to represent more than half of all children in the US by 2023, and 54 percent of the entire US population by 2050, it is clear that this crisis cannot be cast solely as an Asian American, African American, Hispanic American, or Native American issue. It is an American issue with impacts on all of us. I will do my part and I need your help. As an educator for over 30 years, educational equity and opportunity are top priorities for me and as Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus this crisis impacting minority males is of equal importance.

Going forward, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus are working with the College Board on ways to improve the male minority education situation. The Congressional hearing being coordinated with the launch of the Board's report is just the beginning of the work that is needed. We need more support for research on minority male achievement to understand the social and environmental factors that leads to disenfranchisement. This, in collaboration with partnerships among state and federal education systems, will help to mobilize advocacy efforts. I challenge my colleagues in Congress and advocacy organizations to begin a national policy discussion to increase public awareness around the plight of young men of color. We have a crisis on our hands and must waste no time in responding to it.

Rep. Michael Honda represents California's 15th congressional district. Honda is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and is Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. This commentary originally appeared in College Board's Connection newsletter.