Considering the size of the Black and Latino populations living in the states with poor graduation rates for them, bringing about gains at a faster pace is a necessity. It is also very possible. As the maps on pages 12 and 18 illustrate, this is a national issue. Yet, U.S. federal, state and local policymakers’ responses to this persistent challenge have bordered on willful neglect. Many of the international leaders in education, from Finland, Singapore, to Ontario, Canada, have been able to pivot in a relatively short time period and make significant gains. Unfortunately, the solutions that too many U.S. leaders promote to address existing opportunity and achievement gaps remain too small in scale and far too disconnected from the substantive challenges many Black and Latino boys face daily.
After decades of data highlighting increasing lost opportunities for Black males, most states and districts have yet to institutionalize state or district-wide policies focused on providing the supports to create an environment for Black and Latino boys to thrive. Advocates must guide states and districts to engage in the real work of offering vital, expanded systemic supports for teachers to teach and students to learn.
Over the past decade, several federal and state policies have been enacted that are primarily centered on efforts to raise standards, improve assessments and evaluate teachers. While each of these issues warrants attention in the landscape of educational policy, they are not effective drivers toward significantly changing the conditions for students who are in need of more student-centered approaches.
Rather than immediately providing the supports to further engage young Black and Latino men and allow them to truly close the gap, policymakers’ efforts have been primarily standards-driven and punitive in nature. Having high standards is very important, but they are not “game-changers.” In fact, student pushout data supports the belief that overreliance on testing and standards as the driving basis for reform has created a climate where the opportunity for teachers to exercise their craft, engage and implement student-centered learning methods has been severely minimized. Leading with a standards-based reform agenda leads to policies and practices which make it practically impossible for educators to give students who do not fit “standard student” criteria the attention needed to engage in a meaningful learning process. Rather than reforming these “attention deficient” policies, too many states and districts are taking the easy route and simply labeling those students as “disinterested,” “slow,” “bad” or as having Attention Deficit Disorder.
Parents want student supports, not just more standards. For a student, or to a parent whose child is academically drowning, simply moving the shoreline further away is not compelling. It is the lifeline supports that help the student reach the shore that matter the most. In the recent 2012 PDK/Gallup national opinion poll of parents, Public Education: A Nation Divided, when asked to identify the main issue that public schools in their community must address, parents overwhelmingly bypassed issues around teachers or safety and responded “the lack of financial supports.”
When further asked about policymakers’ recent move toward national common core education standards, parents rightfully highlighted that it would make things among the schools more consistent, but nearly 50% of the parents noted that they did not see the common core standards as being able to change the quality of their schools or improve them at all. Like these parents, we believe common core standards are a good tool, but not the vehicle capable of providing the supports needed to significantly narrow high school graduation gaps. More is needed than a standards-based movement. We firmly believe that this polling data makes the case for policymakers to pivot toward a support-based reform agenda. A standards-based reform agenda is focused on raising the bar and assessing who makes the cut. It inherently creates winners and losers, while a support-based reform agenda’s primary goal is to provide and strategically align the necessary resources so that each student will have the opportunity to reach the bar.
The Black and Latino male data in this report should clearly convey to advocates and policymakers that the U.S. must change course and answer the educational crisis confronting Black and Latino males by leading with a support-based reform agenda focused on creating the learning environment and condition in which males of color, indeed all children, will have an opportunity to learn and succeed.