Black Lives Matter in School, Too

Public schools must do a better job of preparing our youth

(Image: Carlos Eliason)
(Image: Carlos Eliason)

(Image: Carlos Eliason)

This guest post was written by Sacramento, California, Mayor Kevin Johnson. It was originally written for the National Urban League and is edited and republished here with permission.

There is no doubt that race relations and community policing have become important issues. As the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I may be expected to focus on public safety and race in this essay. Instead, I’m examining education and the problems that we, as African Americans, should focus on in our public schools.

Why? Because it’s become abundantly clear that as a nation, we don’t value young black lives. You may think this was never more evident than when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down for playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. But I propose that there is an even more pervasive, more persistent, and more institutional devaluing of black lives and futures that takes place every day in our public schools.

[Related: Getting Kids Math Help Before They Fall Behind]

Look at the facts. In today’s world, a college education is nearly a prerequisite for a well-paying job. By 2020 it is estimated that 65% of all jobs will require post-secondary education or training beyond high school. Yet, as of 2013, only 20% of black adults held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 40% of their white peers. This level of attainment is not surprising considering that our African American children are the lowest performing students in the nation. The data should startle and spur us into immediate action:

+ For every 100 African American children who begin kindergarten, only 20 will graduate from college with at least a bachelor’s degree.

+ If a child is not reading on grade level by third grade, the chances of ever catching up are slim-to-none. Yet, as of 2013, only 18% of African American fourth graders were reading at or above grade level—the lowest percentage of all racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. Of the 82% of children below grade level, 75% will never catch up.

+ Completing algebra in 8th grade is often considered a gateway to higher education; yet as of 2013, only 14% of African American eighth graders could do math at or above grade level.

+ A high school dropout will earn $1.3 million less over his or her lifetime than a college graduate. African Americans drop out of high school at twice the rate of their white peers.

There is no more compelling data to show how little we value the lives of black children in this country. Essentially we are systematically denying black kids the quality education that would ensure their role as productive adult members of society. After all, U.S. schools are twice as likely to place brand-new teachers with poor, minority students; and almost four times more likely to suspend black students than white students. Our present education system is dooming our children’s future. There’s no other way to say it.

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