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Last week, the San Diego Unified School District unveiled its plan to bring Black students up to speed. Its course of action — a $3.5 million effort that incorporates college-preparation, parent workshops and centers, and faculty members that serve as liaisons for families of Black students.

The district’s program is one of many springing up around the nation focusing on bridging the Black student achievement gap.

Programs in Richmond, Boston, Palm Beach, Atlanta, and Cincinnati have made news for their efforts in helping to lessen the crisis.

The disparity is quite evident in San Diego.  During the 2009-2010 school year Black students, who make up a mere 12 percent of the district’s students, accounted for 21.5 percent of suspensions compared to white students who accounted for only four percent.

The numbers provide insight into similar statistics on California’s and the nation’s prison population. Blacks make up about 7 percent of California’s population, and make up 32 percent of its prison inmates. Nationally, Blacks account for about 13 percent of the population and nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated.

Much like prison, achievement gap statistics skew heavily against Black males.

It is this reality that has educators, community leaders and civil rights advocates up in arms, working to cleanse a stain that’s tarnishing the fate of African-American males.

Critics say these programs are not only ineffective, but that the achievement gap is a myth diverting funds in a racially exclusive way from other students who could use the same support.

The Council For Greater Schools is a leading advocate on bridging the gap. It’s latest report “A Call For Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools,” is a thorough examination of the crisis.

“Black males continue to perform lower than their peers throughout the country on almost every indicator,” the report reads, outlining a host of factors that contribute to the disparity.

Michael Casserly, Executive Director of The Council For Greater Schools, discussed the toxic combination that is keeping Black males behind.

“It’s not some vague, unquantifiable set of factors the nobody knows what to do with,” Casserly said. “These students simply don’t have the same opportunities that other students have.”

The data shows the lack of opportunity starts from the earliest years. Black males are more likely to grow up in poverty, raised in homes where fathers are absent or unemployed, and mothers detached or chronically depressed.

According to the CGCS, Black children are three times more likely than white children to live in single-parent homes. They are twice as likely than their white peers to live in homes where no parent has a full-time or year-round job. And only a third of Black children grow up in homes where a parent has a high school diploma.

Iheoma Iruka, Researcher at The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of NorthCarolina, evaluates the disparities in Black boys as they emerge.

“It’s hard to assess kids in their early years, but as early as 24 months, a gap in cognitive development begins to emerge,” she said. This means that by the time Black boys reach the age of two, they are already behind white males of the same age when it comes to things like responding to orders and language development.

Still, most of the money is being spent on Black males further along in their development.

This dynamic has left advocates debating on how resources should be spent and has fueled critics who question the merits of these programs.

Critics say it is reasonable to accept the different outcomes across ethnicity — for as far as they are concerned — the correlation between race and achievement has more to do with genetics than socioeconomic factors. It’s an argument that has long existed in American society, used to justify colonialism and slavery. The idea gained steam ever since IQ testing became popular early in the 20th century.

Historically, Blacks score lower on IQ tests than whites. Social architects have used this data to shape everything from public policy to policing strategies.

If critics are correct, this would mean programs to boost Black male performance in schools are fighting a losing battle and draining districts of money and resources that can better serve the entire student populous.

“There has been some sense of why focus on this particular sub-group when all kids need this,” Iruka said. “But once you acknowledge the social disparity you understand.”

“There’s no credible evidence that has stood the test of time that proves these students don’t want the same opportunities that other kids have,” Casserly said. “I reject when people say these kids aren’t worth our effort. We’re simply not giving these students the support and instruction they need to be successful.”

At any rate, no one is denying that the effort is a mighty task. In San Diego, $3.5 million may not be enough to significantly improve the gap between the 33 percent of African-American students who scored proficient or better on state math tests, compared with 64 percent of white students and 69 percent of Asians.

The funding may only be a drop in the bucket of what is really needed if the city is serious about increasing the graduation rate for Black students. A rate that just hovered below 79 percent in a district where 91.4 percent of white students receive their diplomas.


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