Afterword – By Pedro A. Noguera

Pedro A. Noguera, Professor of Education Executive Director, Metropolitan Center  New York University

Pedro A. Noguera, Professor of Education
Executive Director, Metropolitan Center
New York University

In issuing biennial reports on the educational status of African American males the Schott Foundation has done the nation a great service. Any country that consistently allows this many of its citizens to be under-educated will most assuredly suffer significant consequences.

Of course, the consequences to America have been apparent for some time. They’ve been manifest in America’s over-populated prisons that are literally bursting at the seams with under-educated African American males.

The consequences have also been evident in the high rates of unemployment in economically depressed, socially marginalized neighborhoods, cities and towns where desperation festers and crime and violence are rampant.

The consequences have also been felt by families and communities where fatherless children fall prey to a vicious cycle of failure in part because they lack access to fathers because they are incarcerated, or don’t have the skills to obtain a job to support their family.

It seems that America has tolerated and grown accustomed to the under-education of African American males largely because it has written this off as a “black problem.” Rather than being embraced as an American problem and challenge, our leaders in politics, business and education, have implored the Black community to do something, while washing their hands of responsibility for the failure of the public institutions that should serve them.

This is undoubtedly the reason why we have not raised alarm over the abysmally low set of indicators associated with academic success — the miniscule enrollment of Black males in honors, gifted classes and advanced placement courses, and the shrinking number of Black males who matriculate to college and earn degrees. Nor have we rallied resources to respond to the vast array of indicators associated with academic hardship and distress such as: the high rates of suspension and expulsion, the high rates of special education placement, the low reading and math scores, and the perilously high dropout rates.

Our leaders in politics, business and education have implored the Black community to do something while washing their hands of responsibility for the failure of the public institutions that should serve them

Of course, President Obama recently led the charge, calling for the nation to take action by issuing the My Brothers’ Keeper initiative (MBK). Though some critics charge that it came too late, that it favored the hardships facing African American boys over those facing girls, and that the package of remedies are too general and vague to actually have an impact on the broad set of problems it aims to address, no one could accuse of the President of doing nothing. As the first (and perhaps only) initiative taken by the administration to explicitly address an issue associated with race, there is no doubt that MBK represented a significant risk. As has happened numerous times before, not long after the President held his press conference announcing the initiative he was accused by his critics of race favoritism, of pandering to a favored constituency, and of engaging in divisive race-based politics. Despite all of this, President Obama took on MBK and tried in his own way to address a set of problems that America had grown accustomed to living with for far too long.

As this most recent report by the Schott Foundation reminds us, we have a long way to go in turning the tide against years of neglect. Over fourteen years after the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), dropout rates for African American and Latino males remain well above 50% in most American cities. Sadly, this includes cities such as New York, Austin and Miami where graduation rates have been rising. As this report shows, the situation is just as bleak in many urban, suburban and rural school districts throughout the country. Even class and gender privilege that clearly seem to provide White males with advantages do not seem to buffer Black males from middle class families from educational hardships. Middle class Black males consistently lag behind their peers on standardized tests, and unlike their White male peers, African American males lag behind Black females in science and math, both with respect to grade point average and on standardized tests.

In the last few months we have been reminded of the vulnerability of African American males when targeted by law enforcement. The names Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are now etched into the nation’s consciousness along with the plea: Black Lives Matter. As we struggle with trying to find ways to insure fair treatment by law enforcement officials and the courts and prevent the killing of unarmed African American men and boys, we must also address the injustice that denies Black boys the education resources they need to succeed in life. Closing the education opportunity gap must be a part of the response to ensure that Black lives do indeed matter.

An education continues to be the best route to a decent job and quality of life. For this reason those who seek to ensure the well being, security and future of Black males in America must turn to education. Education can save and enrich the lives of Black men and boys, and it is essential that we ensure they have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.