The Schott foundation study showing that less than 50 percent of black males are graduating from high school is astounding and depressing - but not a revelation to many in the African American community.
We've known for years that our public school systems are failing to meet the needs of young black males. Unfortunately, instead of sparking an important dialogue this news has started the old finger pointing blame game. Blame the teachers, torch the unions and throw social justice organizations under the bus.
This tired argument misses a huge point which is revealed in the study - the fact that our communities are also failing these young men. But talking heads would like to hijack this commendable study to instead galvanize the community against teachers.
African Americans know anecdotally, and this study confirms, that there are a host of other social factors that affect young black males who disproportionately come from single parent homes, are more likely to live in poverty and are predisposed to inner city violence from gangs and drugs. And too often these young men lack role models to show them another path.
I know because I was one of those young men. I came from a family where being gang-affiliated was more prized than being on the honor roll. There was a history of drugs and violence in my neighborhood and frankly a lot of the conditions in my house left me so distracted that often school was the last thing on my mind.
Because of my unstable home environment I moved in and out of schools - attending nearly 10 different schools during my elementary years. Were the teachers to blame for my early failures? Not at all, but my community and my home life were huge factors.
During my years in school there were a lot of great teachers who tried to get through to me. Teachers who stayed late when they weren't paid overtime. Teachers who bought me food, gave me bus fare with their own money and used their paychecks to provide classroom supplies for other students.
Too often these teachers get swept up in the anti-teacher rhetoric that's become common in our public policy debates. Dangerous rhetoric that leads Americans to think that teachers are ineffective, overpaid, part of the problem and should be fired on a whim; an instant recipe for dissuading talented people who are thinking of pursuing a profession in this unappreciated field.
I agree that our education system should focus on the children but I also believe that we need to protect teachers from critics who want to scapegoat them as the sole source of the problem while ignoring other factors.
Children should have good teachers to protect their future and teachers should have a voice on the job to protect them when they are not the source of the problem.
I work closely with many individuals and groups who are committed to using an integrated approach to improving our public school systems--including teachers unions. Together, we are working to provide teachers with the supports they need to help students succeed, to strengthen teachers' skills and to develop ways to accurately identify teachers who are not cut out for the profession. I believe in the work that I do because frankly it's just too easy to think that firing all the teachers is going to solve our education problem. And it's way too easy to throw out the public schools and the kids in them and start with whole new model that's only available to some kids.
But that won't solve the problem for many urban communities who are waiting for us to work together to find a solution that allows all schools and communities to succeed.
Improving education outcomes for black males is an urgent priority, but the blame game will only move us in the wrong direction. Only when parents, administrators, teachers, and the community come together to find solutions can we truly address all the factors in making a child a success. Meanwhile let's stop finger pointing and begin to share solutions because there are too many kids - kids who are growing up like I did - who are waiting for us to get our act together.
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