Aug. 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Williams & Smith: The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color

The challenges facing many communities of color have been well-chronicled. There are any number of reports focused on these communities that cite the depressing statistics across a number of indicators, such as educational performance, unemployment, housing, poverty, health, incarceration, recidivism and life expectancy. The reports are often seemingly devoid of any real hope for progress and improvement.

In 2007, in the annual publication “The State of Black America,” the National Urban League investigated this issue from the perspective of the African-American community and highlighted a number of critical statistics and analyses. It was this publication that led the College Board to the conclusion that something had to be done to raise the visibility of this issue in the educational arena. The recently completed study “The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color” seeks to call attention to the current circumstances but also provides a hopeful perspective on how the nation might make real progress in addressing the underlying issues.

When one looks at educational performances of males of color, one finds that many of the statistics are even more troubling for subgroups than they appear in the aggregate. The College Board investigated four communities — African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians — and it soon became clear that the conditions were problematic for all of these groups. A special word about the Asian community, which is often described as and is quite successful in general, but is often seen in far too simple terms: The reality is much more complex, for we discovered that while many within that community are finding success, Asian males from Southeast Asia and the Pacific had performance profiles similar to less successful minority groups.

Boys are underperforming in schools, and this leads to several social ills. For example, African-American men, about 7 percent of the population, constitute almost 50 percent of the prison population, while Hispanic men, also about 7 percent of the population, make up 20 percent of the prison population. Many are repeat offenders — of the males released from state prisons in 1994, 68.4 percent were rearrested within three years and 47.6 percent were reconvicted within three years. The vast majority of those in prison are poorly educated. It stands to reason, therefore, that education must be at least one of the tools we use to reverse this trend.

The reason for undertaking this work is simple. If the United States is to thrive, the full potential of its citizenry must be developed and productively utilized. For a number of years now, we have been hearing that the U.S. is losing in the international competition for brains. We know, for example, that only 26 percent of African-Americans, 18 percent of Hispanics and 24 percent of Native Americans and Pacific Islanders have at least an associate degree. So there is vast untapped potential that can help support our social and economic development — if we make the commitment to reach out to those groups. Indeed, we believe there is both an economic and moral imperative to do so.

A major part of the challenge, and a clear opportunity to intercede, lies in innovative supports and opportunities that improve the low levels of educational performance of many of these groups. Today, America’s youths experience intense pressures to succeed and perform without being given either the academic or social supports they need to thrive. Young people must be afforded multiple opportunities to reach their greatest potential in order to be ready for college, work and life.

Our overarching belief is that early and sustained engagement in a continuum of meaningful educational opportunities helps create among disadvantaged young people a belief in the value of education, lifelong learning and attachment to work and prosperity. We believe these are essential prerequisites in the development and ultimate success of youths who would otherwise be in danger of permanent disfranchisement from the social and economic mainstream of America.

“The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color” is not a research paper but rather uses existing research to amplify the voices of those from these affected communities. The conversations, called Dialogue Days, which the College Board convened during 2008, were designed to hear from researchers, activists and practitioners from the four groups mentioned. Those voices are powerfully expressive of the challenges facing members of their group. Still, the tone was hopeful, and that is why they have advanced a number of programs designed to make changes in the conditions they were so eloquent in describing. The College Board and the National Urban League wish this hopefulness to be the pre-eminent message taken from the report, because if we are to achieve President Barack Obama’s goal to produce 8 million additional college graduates by 2020, then we must move with clear purpose and with all due speed.

Ronald Williams is vice president of the College Board. Hal Smith is vice president of education and youth development at the National Urban League. Read “The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color” here.

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