Two of five black students drop out in California

This morning we’ll lay out a spread of casseroles, fruit and salads as part of the solution to the two in five dropout problem among black students in California.
The Biotech Brunch is a simple, practical way to put into effect the findings of researchers, most notably the Commission on Research in Black Education of the American Educational Research Association led by Dr. Joyce King of Georgia State University.
Back in June, we gathered 15 young people from Potrero Hill Apartments on a night when the NBA Finals were occurring to join us for deli sandwiches from Tom Bennett’s Miyako Ice Cream and attend the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
They had never been to a scientific conference, but they found that their presence transformed the conference. By the end of the evening, the president of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine had introduced himself to them and offered to begin the Biotech Brunches. Dr. Alan Trounson came out for the first one on July 31 at the Potrero Family Resource Center.
On the same day that the California Dept. of Education announced that 37 percent of black students dropped out in 2008-9 who started school four years earlier, a three percent gain from the previous year, a federal judge upheld Prop. 209, which many have interpreted as preventing the necessary steps to address the dropout problem.
Those who draw public salaries and look for excuses to avoid meeting the challenge must be held accountable. In Los Angeles Unified, for instance, 38 percent of black students dropped out despite $2 billion in categorical state and federal aid annually and an additional $800 million in stimulus funding. Oakland Unified’s dropout rate is 40 percent for black students.
In San Francisco Unified, we recently learned that the assistant superintendent for student services reportedly misallocated funds which should have gone to address these problems, with some winding up in the personal accounts of her staff.
However, we found through the help of a contract with the Economic Opportunity Council of San Francisco, led by Dennis Yee and Darnisha Wright, that none of the socio-economic excuses educators sometime hide behind overcome the natural curiosity and excitement for learning among young people.
In Potrero Progress, we crafted a course called From Salt to San Francisco General and embedded it with distinguished scientists like Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo of UC-SF, Dr. Lisa White of San Francisco State; Dr. Trounson and Dr. Juan Gilbert of Clemson University and visits to the Alviso salt ponds, the stem cell institute and San Francisco General to build in the relevance. They also studied the experiences of the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology and viewed our documentary Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge.
In 20 years of providing curriculum to schools, we have been not surprised, but still amazed at how quickly the infusion of the African-American catalyzes learning among black students, and many of their classmates.
Let’s get real. In a state named for a black warrior queen, where a black millionaire who spoke six languages in the 1840s began the public school system, where a black architect designed the signature building for the largest airport, we can’t motivate black kids to go to school?
Of course, in the normal course of study, they wouldn’t learn any of those facts.
Infusion of black heritage is one of the core recommendations of CORIBE, ten years ago and the strong admonition of scholars ranging from Carter G. Woodson to Sylvia Wynter, author of Do Not Call Us Negros: How “Multicultural” Textbooks Perpetuate Racism.
In 2008, I prepared a research study for the California Council for the Social Studies conference which found that only ten percent of the state’s social science teachers knew how to provide culturally-responsive instruction.
Cutting through the academic jargon, if you want black students to perform well in science, you need to present the work of black scientists and give them opportunities to actually meet them in person or online. Despite Prop. 209, it is still possible to provide that kind of instruction.
So this morning, we have Tokiwa Smith, founder of SemLink, a chemical engineering graduate of Florida A&M, to talk to high school and dropouts about the possibilities of biotechnology. Our venue is the southeast campus of City College of San Francisco where the Bridges 2 Biotech program can prepare one for a $35,000 to $50,000 job as a lab assistant in two semesters.
Last month, Debradenise Brooks told of graduating from the program eight years ago. Now she travels the globe working on clinical research trials and is nearing six figures in salary.
Three persons joined the program immediately.
The young people understand, more readily than the educational administrators who profit from failure, that they are in a competitive economy and they leap at opportunities which clearly respect their innate intelligence and cultural sensibilities.
We found them to be starving for intellectual stimulation.
California has been in a mess since the passage of Proposition 209. Many people haven’t made the link, but the engine of California growth was the free higher education offered in the 1950s, particularly for black students who couldn’t attend universities in much of the rest of the country at any price.
For me, the experience of seeing young people pull up their pants, don lab coats and walk confidently through advanced science settings is clear evidence of what must happen to regain the California dream.
They shouldn’t be consigned to special education and then prison, but given an education specially designed for their needs.
On Jan. 15, 2011, we’ll begin our INNOVATION & EQUITY symposium: Spurring Manufacturing Through Innovation in Black Communities with an education session which will show how to implement these initiatives nationally.
Beginning Jan. 18, 2011, we begin six weeks of classes on San Francisco black history, specifically geared to educators, to provide a baseline of cultural competency that our students so desperately need.

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