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Failing Our Black Children

Failing Our Black Children

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which theoretically ended school segregation in America. But many schools are as segregated today as they were before the ruling, and Black children throughout the United States are performing at the bottom of the American educational system.
The nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in a state-by-state comparison, comes in last on the NAEP reading exam in 2003. Seven percent of its Black fourth-graders scored at or above proficient on the reading exam, versus 70 percent of White fourth-graders. 
 And while equal and adequate funding of our educational system is a major issue, it is not the only issue. For example, Prince George’s County, Md., which is almost 70 percent Black, is one of the most affluent Black communities in the nation. And academically speaking, it’s also one of the lowest-performing counties in Maryland.
 An achievement gap gives way to an employability gap, an earnings gap, a health care gap, a life expectancy gap, a housing gap, an incarceration gap, a marriage-ability gap, a wealth gap and other quality-of-life gaps. This achievement gap begins before children start school, widens between kindergarten and second grade and is locked in by the third grade. The gap persists through elementary school, high school, college and ultimately the work force.  
Without a good education, many Black children are being prepared for the streets, the drug culture, violence, unemployment, prison and death. Without a good education, Black children will be unable to compete with the best and brightest students from all parts of the world for jobs in America. Without a good education, Black children are not much better off than the slaves that they might be studying during Black history month. 
While the achievement gap is a difficult problem to solve, it is solvable. The key to fixing the problem is ensuring that Black parents are active, invested and involved in the educational lives of their children. Next, Black children must be re-inspired and motivated to do well in school. Many Black students have simply turned away from education. Additionally, the funding, school resources, class size, teacher quality and other factors needed to educate Black children must be equal to that of other children. The parent-teacher connection that is directly related to improved student performance and high achievement must be strengthened. In addition, the Black community must develop and maintain high academic standards for all Black children — starting at birth. 
The education of Black children is not a priority in America. It must become one. The same national resolve that is necessary to wage war in Iraq is needed to ensure that all children in America are well educated. While many individuals and institutions have a powerful role to play in reversing this problem, the Black community must supply the leadership, energy and resolve to fix it. The government must provide the financial resources and the legislative will. This issue must become a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year national priority. The failure of Black children to be educated in American schools is not their fault, adults are to blame. And it will take all Americans to fix this problem.  

 â€” Phillip Jackson is executive director of the Black Star Project, which aims to provide educational services that help pre-school, elementary, high school and college students succeed academically.

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