The recent 50 State Report released by the Schott Foundation for Public Education is alarming. The report titled “Yes We Can” highlights that less than 50% of Black males graduate from high school. However, a glimmer of hope in the report is that some states and cities are doing better by Black males. In places like Newark, NJ, schools have made huge strides and are doing better with educating our young men. Much of the momentum in Newark is largely due to an equity lawsuit that focused resources on underserved schools.
New York City was in a similar situation with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a decade long court case that pushed a school district of 1.1 million kids to receive its fair share of the state budget. That case was decided in favor of New York City kids, but unfortunately we still have not seen the cash. Even more disturbing, New York is only graduating only 25% of Black males statewide, and 28% in New York City, all of this while we wait on our overdue check from the state.
Now, full disclosure. I work closely with John Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation and his leadership team to help transform this systemic failure of black boys in New York City through courageous initiatives like the Urban Community Teachers (UCT) Project at Brooklyn College. UCT rigorously trains and carefully places primarily Black male teachers in under-resourced school communities. Another startling statistic: only 4% of NYC teachers are black males and the number is approximately 2% nationally.
I’m not naive to think training and placing Black male teachers in more classrooms is the silver bullet to our urban education crises, but it is damn sure a positive intervention. And positive interventions are what we need more of. Here are just three suggested positive interventions for NYC schools:
Positive Intervention #1: Stop closing “failing schools”. Closing schools don’t work. It does not yield positive outcomes. We need to instead transform schools while they are still open, flooding them with the same resources that better funded schools receive and with teachers who are rigorously trained for the demands of urban teaching.
Positive Intervention #2: Eliminate the “subculture”: With many programs that train teachers for “urban teaching” like Teach for America tend to create a revolving door of teachers. The thinly trained teachers go into the classroom and leave after two to three years. This fosters a temporary worker or substitute teaching-type of an arrangement where teachers (and increasingly students) become reliant on ambitious and smart teachers staying for the long stretch. Hire more rigorously trained teachers who are “geographically and demographically” linked to the schools, seeing themselves as not just a part of the school but also a part of the surrounding community. Train teaching assistants and paraprofessionals to become teachers. These individuals tend to be community members, mothers and fathers with kids in the schools who work for little pay. They can be supported to complete a college degree and gain certification to move to front of the class as teachers.
Positive Intervention #3: Hire more Black and Latino administrators in key posts in the NYC Department of Education. There are virtually no people of color in key posts (i.e. deputy chancellor spots). Schools Chancellor Joel Klein runs the show and his leadership team doesn’t reflect the majority population of Black and Latino students in the schools. We need more administrators who are sensitive to community school needs and willing to challenge the chancellor on initiatives that do not work.
We need better schools for our kids, and its not time to mince words. Its time to speak truth to power.