Just who am I talking about? Quite frankly, all of us--parents, teachers, school administrators, coaches, executives, and entrepreneurs. I know it's a sweeping indictment, but given the severity of our education crisis, not enough of us are engaged in adequately preparing our students to become capable, productive citizens.
Most of our kids are barely literate: 70% of all American eighth graders cannot read at their level. America's Promise Alliance reports that a student drops out of school every 26 seconds. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, 25% of our students fail to graduate on time, and the figure for African American and Latinos is a staggering 40%.
As a coach in AAU youth basketball I know firsthand of parents who invest more time helping their sons build up stats on the basketball court than reviewing assignments for the classroom. It was painful to watch talented athletes being denied the opportunity to receive a full scholarship--the equivalent of a $200,000 gift--simply because they couldn't meet NCAA eligibility requirements. If there were a law on the books that held parents and coaches liable for ensuring high school athletes meet minimal academic standards, many of them would be locked up for criminal negligence.
We also have cases in which educators undermine student achievement of minorities, especially black males, by treating them as suspects. According to the U.S. Department of Education, African American students, regardless of financial status, are more than three times more likely to receive suspensions than white students. Even worse, 70% of students referred to law enforcement by school officials are black or Latino.
So how do we fix the problem? Once again, it takes all of us. As mentioned in our award-winning series on education, which you can access on BlackEnterprise. com, parents must become smarter consumers of public education. They must demand nothing less than excellence in curriculum and instruction while making school officials accountable. Administrators must develop partnerships with parents and community members to enlist their assistance in student engagement. Organizations such as Teach for America, an outfit that places recent college graduates like my daughter into high-poverty, low-achieving schools, is another important part of the mix, getting our best and brightest to teach 600,000 students this year. And businesses, large and small need to expand collaborative efforts on issues ranging from curriculum development to institutional management.
We have a huge stake in the development of our students--regardless of whether we are parents or have kids attending public schools. They represent our nation's future workforce and leadership. In fact, one of my personal charges as a coach is making sure that "my boys" gain every academic advantage available to them. In one such case, I took a Cameroonian exchange student into my home for a summer not only because he was a great athlete but because he represented young people at their best: respectful, talented, intelligent, and fluent in three languages. Still learning to comprehend English, he initially scored poorly on his College Boards not because he wasn't smart, but rather he had not received the test preparation that is a given for privileged students in this country. As a result, this brilliant student-athlete could have been denied scholarship opportunities to attend top-notch colleges and universities. From that point on, I made it my mission to ensure that he would get the equivalent training and support that my own children received in order to be considered for scholarship and placement opportunities.
It takes that level of commitment to ensure our kids aren't shortchanged. We must remember that most of us would not have achieved our current status without advocates, mentors, and sponsors who gave us access to opportunities. Given the enormous challenges that lie ahead, we can ill afford not to reach back and help the next generation get its best shot at professional success and prosperity.
COPYRIGHT 2012 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.(Used by permission)