Justice for black students

I started last week with a breakfast on the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. adjacent to the old 12th Street YMCA, now the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C..
As I dined with my college newspaper colleague Roger Glass, now an editor for the American Federation of Teachers, and his wife, we listened to fellow classmate Donald Temple, a civil rights lawyer in the grand tradition of Marshall and Charles Houston, discuss a new way of thinking for African-Americans.
Marshall and Houston would be alarmed at the current situation for African-American students, particularly after the decades they spent to eliminate discrimination and disparities.
Even I, a mere scrub in the civil rights movement while desegregating D. Matt Thompson Junior High School in 1967, can not believe how unconstitutionally bad education has gotten for black students.
When the President discussed how education was a pillar to American competitiveness during the State of the Union address Tuesday night — a theme previewed for us during INNOVATION & EQUITY by Deputy Education Secretary Tony Miller — it raised the issue of how black students would find themselves faring in this dismal environment.
For the President’s objectives to bear fruit, things have to dramatically turn around in the largest state in the union– California.
Dr. Ralph Bunche and Jackie Robinson are likely spinning in their graves to see the news that two in five black students in the Golden State drop out. They were honors students in the 1920s through the 1940s, a typical spot for black high schoolers in the early 20th century in the state.
In fact, California’s schools were the magnet that drew the likes of C.L. Dellums to escape the segregated schools of Texas.
For the past 15 years, African-American population in California has dropped, in large part because parents with mobility find the state’s schools unacceptable for their students.
Turning the situation around is quite simple. This is the 20th anniversary of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4, first published in 1991. Our first proof copy produced a two grade point average gain among black students in Los Angeles’ Jordan High School.
The pedagogy is quite direct. But although there are 39 African-Americans mentioned by name in the California history/social science content standards, practically every school in the state refuses to teach the role of African-Americans in the Golden State, a saga so significant we titled our fourth volume The Black Queen: How African-Americans Put California on the Map.
From a public health and mental health standpoint, that failure is damaging for all students, but institutionalized child abuse for African-American children.
Nowhere is the situation worse than San Francisco Unified School District, which refuses to even put Black History Month on the academic calendar. Not surprisingly, the city has the highest outmigration of African-Americans of anywhere in the state.
Parents do have options. The President’s remarks presaged the legislative struggle to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary School Act, first launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The original purpose, to equalize educational environments for all students, particularly African-Americans hampered by a century of segregation, has been muddled, but the regulations governing Title 1 still require that adequate resources be focused specifically on the below proficient students and on providing resources for parents. Every district and every school in the nation has a set percentage required to be invested in those items.
Usually, school districts hide the budgets from parents and the public, redirect the money to other things and, as we recently found out in San Francisco, actually use it to reward friends instead of the intended purposes. We are still awaiting an answer from last January on the use of Title 1 professional development funds in San Francisco Unified.
When I gave the keynote for the Innovation Generation Congressional Internet Policy Forum in the Rayburn House Office Building last Friday, I acknowledged the depth of this implementation problem across the nation.
There is enough federal funding statewide and in local districts to assure that black students get the learning materials with culturally responsive content and their teachers get the professional development to use it well.
In most cases, there isn’t a champion to make it happen, as the well connected drain the funding.
One important solution can happen at the national level. I was gratified to hear FCC Commissioners Micheal Copps and Mignon Clyburn support the same idea earlier in the day.
As the President noted, the United States has fallen far behind countries like China in college graduation. In China, there is a digital network which provides consistent educational content across 800,000 high schools.
My proposal is for a nationwide African-American educational network, drawing from the century and half resources of historically black colleges and universities which know how to educate black students, as well creating a new industry of educational content providers.
Today’s students can’t wait for school districts to play games with governance and school uniforms while ignoring the fact that the curriculum does not fit the student population.
For six more weeks in San Francisco, we’re providing a comprehensive professional development experience using our new textbook Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco. Starting last week with the early Spanish pobladores of Mission Dolores, we’re surveying the complete history of the city, drawing on more than 2,000 primary source documents and artifacts.
This Saturday’s session is at the National Maritime Museum, following the debut at the African-American Center in the S.F. Main Library. We’re intentionally moving around to sites which teachers and parents should be intimately familiar with. There is no reason for students in San Francisco, the world’s favorite city, to be bored and dispirited, particularly when they learn that public education in California was started by an African-American millionaire sailor in the 1840s who spoke six languages and was a math wizard, or that the state’s name comes from an allegorical black queen, whose nine foot mural can be found at the top of Nob Hill.
We’re also piloting a revamping of our BlackParentsGuide site to become a rating of every school in the nation on its effectiveness with black students, using test scores and the funds allocated to them through categorical sources.
For instance, we would rank a school like Oakland School of the Arts, which a visitor would consider one of the happiest school sites one could ever envision, quite highly.
A ray of hope is that the patron saint of that school is now governor of California.
We’ll start in February with a rating of each of the schools in San Francisco and add Oakland and Los Angeles in March.
As the President mentioned, accountability and results will be hallmarks of the new legislation. Black parents are dumbfounded that the billions allocated to compensatory education from the federal and state governments never seem to get to the students intended.
With these new tools, they’ll be able to see what kind of professional development and materials should be available and to vote with their feet from schools which are wasting valuable educational resources.
If Marshall and Houston and Carter G. Woodson were here today, they would be up in arms about the miseducation of black students. It’s our responsibility to do it in their stead.