On the heels of several national tragedies in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Michigan, grassroots advocates nationwide have been joined by ever growing numbers of people of conscience in demonstrations all across the country, fiercely proclaiming “All Lives,” and more specific to the current cases of injustice — “Black Lives Matter.”
We fiercely agree.

For over a decade, the Schott Foundation’s efforts to collect and publish national data on the four-year graduation rates for Black males compared to other sub-groups has been to highlight how the persistent systemic disparity in opportunity creates a climate and perception of a population who is less valued.

Black males in America have been cast in a light far too negative for their actual contributions to family, community, democracy, economy, thought leadership and country. There are over two million Black male college graduates and over one million enrolled in college today. Black households in general dedicate 25% more of their income to charities than White households and Black males comprise one of the largest percentages of American veterans.1 Yet, in the face of these positive attributes, the systemic treatment, outcomes and portrayal of Black males in key systems like education, labor and justice has been largely negative. Our data indicates that, once again, of the 48 states where data was collected, in 35 states and the District of Columbia, Black males remain at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates. (Latino males were at the bottom in 13 states.) This fact, once again, provides clear evidence of a systemic problem impacting Black males rather than a problem with Black males. As such, for states and localities, “Black Lives Matter” must be a declarative action statement rather than a shallow affirmation.

Since Black lives continue to matter to us, this edition of the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males is intended to again alert the nation to the serious reality of a quieter danger that does not instantly end young lives, but creates an all but insurmountable chasm of denied opportunities that consigns them to limited chances to succeed in life. The failure to close the opportunity gap, whether at the national, state or local level, not only deprives all of us, our communities and our nation of the talents and potential contributions that these young people have proven they can make and would likely replicate, but also constitutes a grave injustice.

This biennial report, the Schott Foundation for Public Education’s fifth since we started documenting Black males in public education in 2004, shows that the opportunity gap continues to be the greatest for Black males of all racial/ethnic and gender groups and, while nationally there have been slight increases in their rate of securing a regular diploma four years after beginning high school, the gap between graduation outcomes for Black males compared to their White male counterparts continues to widen.

At the national level, the 2012-13 school year estimates indicate a national graduation rate of 59% for Black males, 65% for Latino males and 80% for White males. In 2012, the Schott Foundation reported that the national graduation rate for Black males was 51 percent. When compared with our current 2012-2013 estimate of 59 percent, this indicates an increase in the Black male graduation rate nationally. It is important to note, however, that in a one-time federal data release, the U.S. Department of Education reported the 2011 Black male graduation rate at 61 percent, which would indicate a decrease when compared with our 2012-2013 estimate.

This variance underscores the necessity for consistent annual federal, state, and local reporting of these data disaggregated by race and gender. We measure what matters, and because Black lives matter, the regular reporting of these data points matters. Nonetheless, the decrease from 61 percent to 59 percent shows a need for more progress in increasing the Black male graduation rates in states and districts across the country.

The graduation gap between Black and White males has widened, increasing from 19 percentage points in school year 2009-10 to 21 percentage points in 2012-13. Black males continue to be both pushed out and locked out of opportunities for academic achievement, including notable disparities in their enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and participation in Gifted and Talented programming. Furthermore, Black students were more likely to be classified as students with disabilities and were more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. These trends persisted at the national level as well as when analyzing data for individual states.

Education is a public good and an essential underpinning of our democracy. Our public education system remains the best vehicle and platform to deliver many of the supports necessary to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Positioning young people to secure a high school diploma, which prepares them for postsecondary training and education, creates a clear pathway out of poverty. Indeed, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times terms education the “escalator out of poverty.” Thus, creating state and local ecosystems that provide healthy living and learning communities with the necessary supports to provide all students an opportunity to learn — including Black males — is essential.

Black Lives Matter! They matter because they are significant to families, communities and our country. More importantly, they matter because they are a part of our interconnected humanity. As such, we cannot allow these racial and gender disparities to persist.