Some people were uncomfortable with how he said it, but the core of educator Steve Perrys message in Charlotte Thursday should brook little disagreement. That message is this: Too many African American students, especially males, are failing in our public schools and not enough is being done to address the problem.
Thats not a startling assessment. This editorial board has been banging that drum for several years. Graduation rates, dropout rates and performance on state tests attest to the problem. Perry, speaking at a community breakfast sponsored by MeckEd, a local education advocacy group, sought to shake people out of complacency on the matter with blunt talk, declaring that such failure shows that people dont care enough to provide those students with good schools. He also pointed a harsh finger in general at administrators, teachers who make excuses for failure, even custodians who dont keep schools clean.
Of course, many people and circumstances figure into this problem. That includes poor principals (Perry, a principal himself, didnt highlight that issue), unmotivated students and uninvolved parents. And clearly home and school environments matter in terms of adequately preparing students for school, and providing the resources to help them succeed.
But those reasons for achievement problems are not excuses for failing to effectively tackle them.
Perry, a CNN commentator and principal of a Hartford, Conn., magnet school whose population is predominantly black, got a lot right in making that point. But he did get some things wrong.
The graduation rate for black males in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is not the 39 percent figure he quoted. That is from 2007-08 statistics. Neither CMS nor the state has calculated rates for black males for 2011-12 but the year before 2010-11 showed progress: The black male graduation rate was 57 percent, 4.5 percentage points higher than the year before.
There was a yawning gap, though, between that rate and the grad rate for other groups in CMS. The rate for black females was 74.5 percent; the rate for white males was 80.8 percent; the rate for white females was 86.9 percent. CMS black males also fell behind the statewide rate for black males in 2010-11 64.2 percent.
Those disparities also show up in performance on state tests. Just 66.7 percent of CMS black males passed state tests in 2011-12, that was down from 70.4 percent in 2010-11. Black females saw an increase in performance from 74.9 percent to 76 percent as did white females (from 94.5 percent to more than 95 percent) and white males (from 94 percent to 94.3 percent).
So Perry is right. There is work to do.
But his primary prescription shuttering failing schools is a popular reform idea that has a mixed track record in many places its been tried. What has proven to help, research shows, is highly effective teachers, early childhood education, more time in class and emotional and physical support services including tutoring, mentoring and counseling.
And some school systems have found success with targeted programs. Neighboring Guilford County Schools set up an Early Middle College High School, a collaborative effort with N.C. A&T State University. It is an all-male high school thats almost entirely black. Its record of achievement? 85 percent passed state tests in 2010-11; and 94 percent passed in 2011-12. The school is predominantly low-income, and 93 percent of its low-income students performed at or above grade level on state tests. Its graduation rate? 96 percent.
Getting those kinds of results requires a whole lot more effort and commitment. Perrys kick-in-the- pants talk was a good reminder of that.