Black Male Grad Rates: Despair, And A Ray Of Hope

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In the past few weeks, more than 400,000 young black men entered American high schools as freshmen. Four years from now, fewer than half of them will get diplomas.

That's according to a new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It found that only 47 percent of black male students entering high school in 2003 graduated in 2008. For white males, the graduation rate was 78 percent.

John Jackson, the foundation's president and CEO, tells NPR's Guy Raz that those numbers are dismal largely because of the lack of resources in schools with high black populations. He says that when young black men are given opportunities to learn in schools with more resources, they perform well.

Not Necessarily Black And White

Detroit had one of the worst black male graduation rates for any city: 27 percent. But the graduation rate for young white men was even worse, at 19 percent.

Jackson says those numbers prove that a lack of resources affects everyone — not just one racial group.

"What makes it a race and ethnicity issue is that more black males are in poorly resourced schools and have less access to the types of resources needed to learn," Jackson says.

The Trend Can Be Reversed

There's hope in the story of New Jersey. In 2003, black male students there were graduating at a rate of 48 percent. Just five years later, that rate had soared to 75 percent.

Jackson attributes New Jersey's turnaround to the changes made because of a court case, Abbott v. Burke. Parents sued, and a judge found that the state spent less in schools with two-thirds African-American enrollment. He ordered the state to spend the same across the board.

Jackson says the state decided to fund areas that education experts have shown to be effective, such as early childhood education and hiring high-quality teachers.

"And in there, we know there is a need for extended-day learning," Jackson says, "perhaps even year-round schooling for those who are behind to recover."

A High-Stakes Game

Unless other states follow the lead of New Jersey, Jackson says, the new study is a harbinger of worse things to come.

He says low graduation rates are connected to high unemployment and incarceration rates among black men.

Black males make up 40 percent of the U.S. prison population, he says, but only 6 percent of the country's overall population.

"So our country, economically, is paying on two ends," Jackson says. "The consequences are across the board."



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