42 percent dropping out

When 42 percent of the black high school students in an entire state drop out, the young people aren’t failing, the educators are.

That’s the news from California’s superintendent of public instruction who said last fall that closing the achievement gap was his top priority.  Although he deserves credit for asking the right questions, answers have not been coming from educational decisionmakers.

One would hope that O’Connell and other administrators would visit the annual conference of the Association of Black Psychologists in Oakland through July 31.  There they might learn about the importance of culturally-responsive learning for peoples of African descent.

Instead of consulting the experts on black pedagogy, millions upon millions have been wasted in the effort to privatize public schools, under the assumption that a business approach to education would get better results.

The high-stakes testing and exit exams added as a supposed incentive have basically chronicled the failure of the field-dependent approach to learning.

In March, I keynoted the California Council on Social Studies, presenting a report entitled Black Heritage as the Gap Closer.    I pointed out the significant role of blacks in California history from the 1500s, showed how their inclusion was already required by state law and regulations and demonstrated that classrooms who applied those principles were much more successful.

In San Francisco, there are two black-operated private schools, the Meadows-Livingstone elementary school and S.R. Martin College Preparatory High School, both in relatively small buildings, drawing from the same student population as the public schools.  Each has 99 percent college attendance from their graduates.  In both cases, they present skills training through the lens of an African-centered pedagogy.

Experienced black teachers, like the ones many of us had in segregated schools, know that students need an armament against the racism that they face in their daily lives in order to succeed educationally.  It is not only possible to do, but the most effective teaching technique available.   Although most black students no longer have black teachers, the techniques can be applied equally effectively by educators of other backgrounds.

For the past two years, I’ve trained dozens of teachers from San Francisco Unified Schools; however the district has not embraced an infusion policy that would give them support with learning materials and further training.  More importantly, principals and other leaders haven’t gotten the training.

So far the No Child Left Behind approach has been to simply close schools when students do not learn.  The assumption is that something is wrong with the children.

But these figures hold firm no matter the poverty status of black children.  As a parent, ask questions about the way that black history and current affairs figures are included in the classroom.  Our study, Black Heritage as Gap Closer: Educator Capacity to Provide Culturally-Responsive Social Studies Teaching, is available at http://www.californiablackhistory.com.

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