Does the achievement gap separating black boys from other students spring from an anti-education culture in the African-American community?
Robert L. Smith:
The achievement gap separating black boys from just about everyone else springs from a powerful, anti-education culture rising in the black community, a local black think tank argues in a new report.
Parents who undervalue education, and a mass media that peppers youth with the quick, shallow rewards of hip-hop lifestyle, are steering alarming numbers of boys down a dead-end path, PolicyBridge contends.
The report calls for public recognition of a phenomenon crippling the black community and the civic will to fight it. It's to be released today via mailings to civic leaders and on the group's Web site, www.policy-bridge.org.
"In our community, family culture has changed, and street culture has changed," said Randell McShepard, 42, an executive at RPM International and the secretary of PolicyBridge. "But the headline now is, Those changes are dragging down the education system.' "
McShepard, Timothy Goler and Mark Batson, all local black professionals who attended Cleveland and East Cleveland public schools, founded the nonprofit research center in 2004 to explore issues critical to the black community.
They wrote the report with guidance from university researchers and public policy makers, as well as from teachers, principals and Cleveland school students, who are liberally quoted.
Some education experts are skeptical about the report's broad conclusions, but they said the topic is critical to Cleveland.
"The Rap on Culture: How Anti-Education Messages in Media, at Home, and on the Streets Hold Back African American Youth" starts from a well-known premise. Black youths, and black boys in particular, perform more poorly in school and on standardized tests than white and Asian youths, regardless of income.
Almost half of black children attending Cleveland public schools fail to graduate, and only a fraction will ever finish college.
What's new is the identification of a leading culprit. The report argues that no amount of money or strategy will close the gap as long as black children are raised in an environment that devalues education.
"School is life, and that is the message our kids are not getting, and a lot of this is culture," said Goler, 41, a former schoolteacher who is PolicyBridge's executive director. "We have to reverse this anti-education mind-set that our kids have."
The authors trace underachievement to the breakdown of the black family, a trend Daniel Patrick Moynihan publicized in 1965, when he reported that 25 percent of black children were born to single mothers. Today, more than 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers.
Absent fathers, and with families weakened, corrupting influences gained power and prestige, the report argues. Rap music, poverty and pop-culture celebrities combine to create an alluring "cool-pose culture of self-destructive behaviors."
The report cites research by a social psychologist who found that black youths enjoy the highest self esteem of any ethnic group, regardless of their grades.
It quotes a Cleveland boy who said he ceased to be taunted at school when he let his grades fall. And it includes the observations of a youth mentor, who said he has been told by children he is the only adult in their lives excited to see their report cards.
"This is sort of a silent killer," McShepard said. "Every day, our community is being chipped away at. And because there's no one big horrible event, no one pays a lot of attention."
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