By Brian L. Pauling
As the school year winds down, one can’t help but think of graduations and where and how students will embark upon the next phase of their lives. Unfortunately, the opportunities for far too many will be limited because of disparities in graduation rates and in opportunities for students at high-performing schools compared with their counterparts at low-performing schools.
Although U.S. high school graduation rates have significantly improved, U.S. Department of Education statistics show that African-American and Hispanic/Latino students are still graduating 5 to 10 points behind the national average. Further, students from low-income families are graduating at a rate that’s 14.4 percentage points below that of their peers from wealthier backgrounds.
For students to be competitive in post-secondary education and career, they have to be properly prepared. Whether competing for admission to college or entering a career, the student graduating from the high-performing school invariably has the advantage over the one from the low-performing school. And although each may have a diploma in hand, the student from a low-performing school will more times than not require remedial courses and start behind the curve when trying to achieve long-term success.
100 Black Men of America, Inc. strongly believes the remedy to this situation is advocating for and demanding high-performing schools for all students – and particularly African-American and poor students. We feel that high-performing public schools, whether traditional or charter, are the best gateway to higher education. Coupled with strong parental involvement, quality education options – ones that ensure every child has access to the high-performing school best suited for him or her – will help them achieve long-term career success.
Sadly, many of the nation’s low-performing schools are in minority and low-income neighborhoods. Far too many of these public schools have inadequate resources and their classrooms are overcrowded. They often lack the things higher-performing schools take for granted – experienced teachers, counselors, special education services, current-edition textbooks, and access to technology, to name a few – and their students suffer. When those conditions are allowed to continue, students’ paths can deviate from higher education and career to paths of overwhelming struggle, economic challenge and potentially prison.
This is why we must implore our school administrators on the neighborhood, district, city, state and national levels to do their level best to make public education more equitable in every school. In a Washington Post article, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on cities and states to rethink their current incarceration practices and proposed funneling an estimated $15 billion in savings from incarcerations to substantially raise teacher pay in high-poverty schools. He reasoned that higher salaries could attract better teachers to low-performing schools where the help is most needed.
“With a move like this, we’d not just make a bet on education over incarceration, we’d signal the beginning of a long-range effort to pay our nation’s teachers what they are worth,” Duncan said. “That sort of investment wouldn’t just make teachers and struggling communities feel more valued. It would have ripple effects on our economy and on our civic life.”
He gets it. We want to make sure everybody else gets it as well. High-performing schools are the best gateway to success. When our children have access to high-performing schools, it exponentially increases their chances to achieve their full potential.
Brian L. Pauling is president and CEO of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., a global nonprofit mentoring organization with more than 100 chapters reaching 125,000 youth in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Learn more at 100blackmen.org.