As the school system disintegrates, educators advocates better choices for teaching Black children
WASHINGTON (–Across America, Black children are returning to public schools designed to allow the few who make the grade to succeed, but the masses to grow frustrated, drop out, have dreams deferred or become just another worker/servant for the American economy, all while receiving an education that fails to teach them how to serve the needs of their community.

As a result of the increasing disintegration of the school system, a growing number of education experts are urging parents to take charge of their children’s learning and consider alternatives, such as independent and charter schools, vouchers and home-schooling.

“It is a well-established fact that educational quality differs by race. Most African American children are going back to classrooms where they are not taught on grade level with appropriate material,” said Bridget Terry Long, assistant professor of Education at Harvard University.


That different educational quality in America’s 90,000 public schools has relegated Black children to the bottom of nearly every measurable educational goal and standard.

“We’re looking at a system that is designed to miseducate us and we’re wondering what’s wrong,” Dr. Mwalimu Baruti, a sociologist at Morehouse University in Atlanta, told The Final Call. “Don’t get upset because the system is doing what it is designed to do. Public schools kill our children’s curiosity. They take away their desire to ask questions and ultimately kills their voice.”

“They are easily influenced,” he continued, “They are taught to memorize, which is not thinking. They can’t analyze what’s happening to us, so they just accept what the media gives us.”

The dumbing down of education

The quality of America’s educational system has been on a decline, evidenced by the dropping Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. 1972 saw a 20-point drop in overall scores from a high of 1059 in 1967 to 1039. They’ve continued to drop with 1.4 million SAT takers in the class of 2003 earning an average score of 1026.

Black students account for only 12 percent of SAT testers and their test scores continue to be at the bottom with the class of 2003 scoring an average of 857.

A major gap also exists between high school grade point averages (GPA) between Black and White students, and continues to widen, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT.

In 1993, the average GPA for White students was 3.18 and for Black students it was 2.83, a difference of .35. In 2003, the average white GPA was 3.37 and for Black students it was 2.95, a difference of .42.

This widening gap places Black students at a further disadvantage in gaining access to higher education. Without a minimum GPA of 3.0, students will more than likely be denied most financial aid awards, which many Black students rely on in order to go to college.

Coupled with low SAT scores, Black students with aspirations for higher education are many times disqualified from entering the school of their choice. They are then relegated to obtaining an education that can only allow them to work for America–if they can find a job at all–instead of enabling them to create jobs for themselves and the Black community.

“The decline in education can be traced to the decline in respect for elders, a sense of family and community,” Dr. Baruti explained. “We used to see ourselves as one and felt responsible for the needs of our community.”

He went on to say, “Now, there is a rise in education simply for the sake of a job. There is no need for education to benefit the community. The needs became personal. The decline also came with the economic competition for jobs with Whites.”

The decline put Black children out of competition with White children for jobs, because the economy could only produce so many jobs, he says.

“On Black campuses, the business department is the largest and the most funded,” said Dr. Baruti. “But it’s not teaching entrepreneurial skills or how to create. It teaches our children how to work for corporate America. It teaches them how to fit in.”

Integration in education: Still separate and unequal

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruled segregated schools were illegal, so Black children were legally allowed to go to school with White children. However, it didn’t legislate people’s attitudes about integration. Consequently, nearly half a century later, many public school systems are still separate and still unequal.

“The focus on integration means that you are trying to become a part of something that you think is better. We want to become them and it’s not working for our children,” said Dr. Baruti.

For example, elementary students, especially Latinos, in the Boston area, are more racially segregated than the national metro average, according to a new study of residential and school segregation patterns by the Lewis Mumford Center at the University at Albany.

“Segregation in Neighborhoods and Schools: Impacts on Minority Children in the Boston Region” found that, almost a third of a century after Boston’s controversial school desegregation order and busing crisis, schools in the city’s metropolitan area remain largely segregated by race and ethnicity.

Black and Latino children are highly concentrated in Boston and certain urbanized satellite cities. In addition, 49 of every 50 White students in the metro area go to school outside of Boston and White suburban children have little contact with Black and Latino students.

“Despite efforts to maintain a degree of racial balance within Boston itself, the exclusion of Black and Hispanic families from most residential suburbs results in a separate and unequal status for their children,” said Mumford Center Director John Logan.

Black and Latino students more commonly attend schools with higher concentrations of poverty than White students, and live in lower income neighborhoods with a greater number of less-educated residents and non-English speakers. Disparities in these neighborhood socio-economic characteristics have increased over the last decade, with their neighborhoods falling further behind.

The “Education President”

“We have an education emergency in the United States of America,” Secretary of Education Rod Paige said as he announced a new partnership with ABC Radio Network to help inform the Black community about the No Child Left Behind Act through a new national radio campaign entitled, “Closing the Educational Achievement Gap.”

“Nationally, Blacks score lower on reading and math tests than their White peers. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to collectively focus our attention on this problem–all children can learn. We have to make sure that every single child gets our best attention.”

Signed into law January 2002 by President George Bush–who came into office declaring education reform as the cornerstone of his administration–the act has several critical elements.

It requires state and school districts to develop strong systems of accountability based upon student test scores. If a school’s scores are low, it is classified as a failing school. The law expands the options of parents with children at these “failing” schools, by giving them the choice to request supplemental services such as tutoring for their children, or transfer them to a school with better scores. The new legislation also encourages teachers to upgrade their skills and to use teaching methods based upon scientific research that has been proven to work.

However, critics of the act say that a standard of school success that is based on test scores is fundamentally flawed in the case of Black and Latino student populations, because these standardized tests are biased against their realities.

Nevertheless, 18 months after the act was signed, Sec. Paige reported to Congress in July that progress was being made, since every state had submitted accountability plans that were approved.

But a closer look at the act reveals a provision many don’t know about, that requires school districts by law to provide phone numbers, mailing addresses and other personal data of high school students to U.S. military recruiters, or face huge financial penalties.

“The president’s agenda involves a military presence around the globe. To do that, you need bodies,” Kaleem Caire, a member of the President’s National Commission for Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, told The Final Call.

“A lot of people join the military because they see limited opportunities. They come from poor communities. Many think sending them to the military is better than jail or a dead-end job.”

New education models: The knowledge of self

In the face of these failures of the public school system, the need for a new education model is evident. But it is not a new phenomenon, for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad instructed his followers in the Nation of Islam to take their children out of public schools and educate them at home back in the 1930s.

Although they suffered great persecution, physical attacks and imprisonment over charges of “contributing to the delinquency of minors” for this revolutionary move, these Muslims were relentless in the decision to give their children an education based on the knowledge of self.

Their resilience established the Honorable Elijah Muhammad as a pioneer of the movement for independent Black schools and his model for the Muhammad University of Islam laid the foundation for the new education models that we see today.

Dr. Baruti and his wife, Yaa Mawusi Baruti, a Morehouse English professor, wanted a new education model for their daughter when she finished the 8th grade. They couldn’t find the right school, so they decided to home-school. They are in the fifth year of the Akoben Tutorial Institute where they provide individualized learning programs for their daughter.

Karen Mason home-schools her daughter Kenya, who also attends some classes at the Institute. “I wanted my daughter to have an education that prepares her for the world we live in. I wanted her to have an African-centered education that teaches her who and what she is, her history and the contributions of her people to all areas of the curriculum.”

Charter schools are also an option for parents and churches that want to improve the education of their children. But for parents whose only option is public school, all is not lost.

“We have to become much more involved in our schools. Parents must prepare their children for learning by teaching them at home. They must instill the importance of learning in their children, support homework and even provide a space for homework,” said Ms. Terry Long.

“Unlike parents in affluent communities, we don’t continue to educate our children over the summer. They regress during the summer break and go back in the fall having to relearn material from last year.”

“If we don’t do these things,” she added, “we will be exactly where we were, or worse off than where we were, 20-30 years ago and still be in this condition 20-30 years from now.”