Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Alarming Stastics that Call for Real Solutions

Today I came across a study by The Schott Foundation for Public Education entitled Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. Looking at this report for the state of Illinois, the statistics are highly alarming:

In the state of Illinois:

  • 47% of African American males graduate from high school (versus 83% for white males in Illinois)
  • 52% of African American males are below basic reading level in 8th grade (versus 19% of white male 8th grade students)
  • 53% of African American males are below basic math level in 8th grade (versus 50% of white male 8th graders)
  • 18% of the state’s population of male African American students were put on out of school suspension during the 2006-07 school year (versus 5% of the state’s white male student population)
  • Over 6 times as many white male students were placed in Advanced Placement Mathematics and Advanced Placement Science classes as compared to African American male students (given their respective shares in the student population)

Needless to say, this paints a pretty bleak picture for the educational prospects of African American males in this state. In an era and in an economy when a college degree does not even guarantee a person's employment, less than half of African American males in this state are earning their high school diplomas. And realistically, the picture is not terribly bright for white male students either: 17% not graduating high school and 50% below basic math level is definitely disturbing.

Studies such as this highlight the urgency for programs that offer students one-on-one attention. Based on the data, students obviously need extra academic help they are not currently receiving in the classroom. But in addition to one-on-one tutoring, they also need people to offer them support, to model career opportunities they might not otherwise know about, and to believe in them as both a student and as a person. This blend of academic support and life coaching is what makes a one-on-one tutor/mentor relationship an ideal way to tackle the above statistics on the individual student level.

One of the interesting statistic to me is the difference between African American and white males in their likelihood of being placed in Advanced Placement (AP) math and science classrooms. The other statistics like differences between reading levels amongst white and African American males, can certainly explain at least a portion of this disparity. However, I think it is also an issue of access. Even Evanston Township High School District 202, located in an affluent and mostly white part of the Chicago suburb, Evanston, recently voted to eliminate its honors humanities courses for freshman. How much less access do kids from low income neighborhoods have to opportunities to be in these types of advanced classrooms where high expectations and high success rates are the standard?

The issues of unequal access are certainly relevant to tutor/mentor programs, too. The opportunity for students to receive this extra help is often limited by location, transportation issues, and even the ability to travel within safe neighborhoods. I have spoken to parents before who don’t want to send their kids to tutoring/mentoring
programs in their own neighborhoods, because they simply worry about the safety of their sons or daughters.

These problems are tied up in range of complex societal issues such as inequality, poverty, and segregation. But we can’t afford to merely feel defeated at these statistics. On an individual level, there are ways to become involved in tutoring/mentoring programs as a volunteer, donor, or advocate. On a broader level, we as citizens need to hold our politicians and leaders accountable to getting more resources and programs—like tutoring and mentoring programs—in all parts of Chicago.

As the Schott Foundation says regarding their maps displaying this information: “This new, interactive tool is designed to provide compelling graphic information that can be used to spark action and hold policymakers accountable for implementing the systemic changes needed to provide Black male students the opportunity to learn and succeed.”

Just as the Schott Foundation has made interactive maps to help educate people and “spark action,” Tutor/Mentor Connection is dedicated to using maps as a resource to guide the decisions of leaders and the voting

Read the Mapping for Justice blog article to see Mike Trakan's explanation of how maps can help point politicians to places in the city where tutor/mentor programs are needed and also to assets like churches and businesses within those communities that have a vested interest in helping youth in that neighborhood succeed.

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