Between the trials and tribulations of the controversial No Child Left Behind law, the growing issue of bullying in schools, and the feeling that parents, teachers and administrators are all searching for a magic solution to the problem that is the American educational system, here comes more bad news.
Recently, President Barack Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan stated that every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school. But things are even worse for black students; a whopping 40 percent of African-American students don’t graduate from high school. These dismal statistics are creating an underclass of African-Americans who have become unemployable, while also affecting the very fibers of the black family structure.
Marc Williams, a high school music theory teacher at Cesar Chavez Charter School in Washington DC, also works with the school’s retention program. He sees a number of different causes for black students not finishing high school.
“Our (African-American) students are dropping out of school for a number of reasons. Aside from the cookie-cutter answers that most folks give that speak to the lack of support from within the household, the fact that many of our students don’t have a ‘set’ of parents, and the obvious idea that many urban schools lack the fiscal resources that other schools have, there are some other things to consider here,” Williams said.
“We, as educators, are failing our students,” he added. “Independent and charter schools (in particular), in order to meet budgets, are spending less money for newer, inexperienced teachers that come fresh off the stage of graduation and into a situation that is a culture shock for them… It’s a set up for failure.”
When you dig deeper, you find that black boys in particular are in a crisis mode. According to the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation on Public Education, more than half — 53 percent — of black male students drop out of high school without a diploma, compared to 22 percent of white males.
And the problem even extends to elementary school, in one of the best charter school programs in the country. A new study by researchers at Western Michigan reports that 40 percent of 6th to 8th grade black boys in the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools (KIPP) drop out before completing the program.
It is already tough for high school graduates to compete economically with college graduates, with college graduates earning around $297,893 dollars more than a high school graduate during a lifetime. But without a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED), a student basically condemns themselves to underclass status. Individuals without a GED or high school diploma loses about $7,000 dollars per year in comparison to someone with a GED.
And in a modern military, where the ability to understand high tech systems is a premium, dropping out of high school and getting into the military is proving to be an obstacle. Even those with high school degrees are finding it difficult. Thirty nine percent of black applicants with a high school degree are rejected by the military. And those who do make it in are coming into the military with lower scores than white applicants, therefore putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to future advancement.
The real societal cost of a high drop out rate at the high school level is that it attacks the structure of the black family. Black high school drop outs feed a growing black underclass of economically disadvantaged families, making it more difficult to break the cycle of poverty. The state of New York is finding that having a GED helps prevent homelessness, and has created Back to School program in order to get individuals to complete their GED.
But the effects are also found in the college ranks. With black boys struggling to finish high school and go to college, some college systems are finding that when they exclude for college athletes, black male students are a scare commodity. In South Carolina, for example, only 3 percent of the student body at the University of South Carolina, Clemson and the College of Charleston, are black male students. This means that there’s a infinitesimal pool of eligible college educated black women looking for a relationships with men with similar educational backgrounds.
The high school drop out epidemic among African-Americans is not a ticking time bomb, it’s a tsunami that’s swamping the future of black America. State Farm Insurance is working with America’s Promise, the educational organization founded by former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, to fight high school drop outs through a new program called 26 seconds. But unless there are major changes to the current educational trends, look for the nation’s prisons to continue to be repositories for the black students left behind, as they grow more desperate to survive without educational skills.