11/01/2012 05:54 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

More Tricks Than Treats in our Education System for At-Risk Kids

I spent last night just like hundreds of thousands of families across America did, sitting on my porch handing out candy to dozens of neighborhood children. Although Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays, mostly because trick-or-treating in the cold isn't my idea of a good time, I rather enjoyed it this year. Now that I have lived in the Tower Grove Park area of St. Louis for several years, I enjoy seeing and talking to the neighborhood kids.

I was particularly struck last night by a group of boys who live in the apartment building across the street from me, which is largely comprised of families receiving Section 8 vouchers. These three boys are cousins living with grandparents and all three of them, who I would guess are between 1st and 5th grade, attend a variety of public schools. One was dressed as a doctor, one as Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams, and one as a member of the United States Army. Even though they never said it, I assumed they chose these costumes because they represented something they admired and/or were hoping to become when they grow up.

I saw lots of kids after these boys left my porch, but this group stuck with me as I turned off my porch light, put my own little Superman to sleep, and opened my computer to write this blog. They stuck with me because I couldn't shake the knot in the pit of my stomach telling me that the chances of those three African American boys ever growing up to be one of the things their costume represented was slim to none.

The youngest among them was dressed as a member of the U.S. Army. You wouldn't be wrong if you had guessed that statistically speaking, this youngster had the best chance of one day growing up to be his 2012 Halloween costume. However, even his chances are far slimmer than any of us would guess. According to this testimony at the Missouri General Assembly's Joint Committee on Accreditation hearing in November, 2011, less than one in four students in this region who take the Army's entrance exam are going to score high enough to ever get in the armed services.

Worse yet, what most people might not realize is that the African American boys at my porch last night had almost as little chance of becoming a doctor as they do of becoming St. Louis' next Steven Jackson. The Black Athlete Sports Network says that African American males make up 77 percent of the NBA, 65 percent of the NFL, and 15 percent of the MLB. By contrast, African American males make up less than 2 percent of American doctors.

At least part of the responsibility of righting this terrible wrong falls at the feet of our schools. Simply telling these three excited children and the millions of others just like them that our schools can't help them reach their goals until they aren't poor anymore is wrong. It sets up a false choice between addressing poverty and fixing education. We can't wait until there is no more poverty to educate children; we have to educate children to eliminate poverty.