In the past week, the nation celebrated the 80th birthday of one of its most noted civil rights leaders in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the inauguration of Barack Obama as its first African-American president.
King’s cause has come a long way. However, much inequality remains — especially in education. Blacks and Latinos are more likely to drop out of school than their white counterparts.
The average statewide four-year graduation rate was 71 percent in 2007. This number includes those who graduate in August after completing summer school classes. However, the rates for Hispanics and blacks were 47 and 51 percent, respectively. While both groups have increased about five percentage points from their 2005 levels, it is still considered too low.
Scores on state math and English standardized tests have also been improving during the last few years but minorities are lagging behind. On the most recent results, released in June, only 53 percent of blacks and Hispanics had achieved proficiency in English compared with 79 percent of whites.
For too many young people, lack of education means their American dream is deferred, as Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said at last week’s Martin Luther King Day tribute in Albany. Robinson said the academic achievement gap is merely a symptom of a larger social problem.
“Too many adults and children are psychologically and financially trapped in an airtight cage of poverty.”
The adults in these homes are often unemployed or underemployed, lack health care and other services. This poverty often causes children to grow up to become poor adults. “Far too many children are victims of their parent’s craziness and unfortunate circumstances of their birth,” he said.
Robinson said that the crisis is so great that America is creating a “cradle to prison” pipeline of future inmates. States across the nation are using the statistics of failure on third- and fourth-grade tests to forecast the number of prisons to be constructed in the future.
Statistics bear this out. At the end of 2007, about 3.1 percent of black males were in prison compared with 1.3 percent Hispanic and 0.5 percent white.
Robinson said people must help each child find his or her voice. “Education enables our children to sift and weigh evidence, discern true from false, discern real from unreal, fact and fiction,” he said.
New York officials have been trying to improve education. State aid sharply increased during the last two years as part of a broad initiative by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer to improve education. Schools districts like Schenectady and Albany with high poverty and great academic need received large state grants under the Contract for Excellence program to undertake initiatives like expanding the school day, decreasing class size, improving teacher training and adding after-school programs.
However, some of those initiatives may be at risk with state aid cut. Gov. David Paterson proposes delaying what was to be a four-year implementation of the increased aid amounts to eight years. Also, the governor is proposing to slash state aid this year by anywhere from 3 to 13 percent as part of a one-time “deficit reduction assessment.”
Under the governor’s proposal, schools will be limited in how much they can cut for the Contract for Excellence, even as they may decimate other parts of their budgets.
School districts are going to try make the best of limited resources. However, the schools cannot do it alone. Society has a role in shaping children’s future.
Parental involvement is key. They can read to their children, practice their spelling words with them and make sure they are doing their homework.
Many parents are struggling to work and raise children all alone. Many children in the schools come from single-parent families. About 73 percent of the children in Schenectady receive free or reduced lunch at school.
Although teenage pregnancy rates have been declining — a fact officials attribute to increased use of contraceptives — the rate for black and Hispanics is still higher.
The rate of pregnancy for teenagers age 15 to 19 for non-Hispanic whites was 47.1 per 1,000 people. For non-Hispanic blacks, it was 131.6, according to information from National Vital Statistics Reports.
Michael Goot is the education reporter for The Daily Gazette. Reach him at 395-3105 or [email protected]