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In the past few weeks, more than 400,000 young black men became high school freshmen. And four years from now, fewer than half of them will cross a stage and pick up a diploma.

That's according to a new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It found just 47 percent of African-American males graduated from high school in 2008. For whites, the graduation rate was closer to 80 percent.

John Jackson is the president and CEO of the Schott Foundation. He joins me from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. JOHN JACKSON (President and CEO, The Schott Foundation for Public Education): Thank you.

RAZ: There are some pretty startling numbers in the study. Let's just start with the state of the New York. That is the state with the worst graduation rate for black males, according to your study, just 25 percent. What's going on there?

Dr. JACKSON: Well, I think you have to ask the question whether or not the state is putting in place the types of policies to provide black males the opportunities to learn, meaning access to early childhood education, highly effective teachers, college-bound curricula and equitable instructional resources because our data clearly indicates that when provided an opportunity to learn, black males perform well.

RAZ: There was an interesting statistic in this report with respect to the city of Detroit, its school district. It showed that there, the black male graduation rate was similar to New York, about 27 percent. But the white male graduation rate was lower. It was 19 percent. What accounts for that, do you think?

Dr. JACKSON: You know, black males perform the best in places where they are small in number - North Dakota, Vermont - places where they can't be relegated or isolated to under-resourced schools. And when they are in places where they have the opportunity to learn, they perform on par.

Likewise, when white males are in poorly resourced schools, they don't perform well. The message there is we've got to provide all students an opportunity to learn.

RAZ: There's an interesting sort of countertrend that you highlight in the report. It's about New Jersey. So in 2003, about 48 percent of black males were graduating from high school in New Jersey. Five years later, that number has jumped to 75 percent, which is quite extraordinary.

Dr. JACKSON: Yeah, I think you hit on the tale of two states. In New Jersey, they were met with a lawsuit from parents and advocates, challenging the opportunity to learn.

RAZ: This is the Abbott versus Burke court case where essentially parents of primarily African-American kids, kids from poorly resourced schools, sued the state, and the judge found in their favor, that their schools were not receiving the same kind of funding and resources as other schools in the state.

Dr. JACKSON: Right. And they made the tough decision to equitably distribute their resources, but not just give more money, but targeted in the areas where the dollars are most needed and in the areas that we know work.

We know that if we give a child access to early childhood education, high quality, and ensure that they're literate by third grade, we know that every child should have access to a highly effective teacher. And in there, there is a need for extended-day learning and perhaps even year-round schooling.

RAZ: What are the consequences if black graduation rates continue to fall?

Dr. JACKSON: Well, I think the consequences, we only have to look at, you know, New York. You can't separate the fact that only 28 percent of black males are graduating with a high school diploma in New York and the fact that 50 percent of black males in New York City are unemployed.

And because of the correlation between education and incarceration, nationally what we see is that 40 percent of our penal institutions are comprised of black males. So the consequences are across the board.

RAZ: That's John Jackson. He's president and CEO of the Schott Foundation. That's a nonprofit public education resource center. If you want to see more of his recommendations and the study, head over to our website, that's at npr.org.

John Jackson, thank you so much.

Dr. JACKSON: Thank you, Guy.

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