The New York Times published a story earlier this month that was very disturbing and underlines some of what is at stake in the struggle to help American children receive a high school degree. Titled "Plight Deepens for Black Men" the article looked at findings from a number of new studies and concluded that African-American men are, as a group, facing much worse problems with regard to education and incarceration than have been previously documented. Among the more alarming findings:
• about 50% of young black men in inner cities graduate high school
• in 2004, 72% of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless
• before reaching age forty, 60% of black male high school dropouts had spent time in prison
• "among black dropouts in their late 20's, more are in prison on a given day (34%) than are working (30%)"
These numbers are set against a backdrop of Hispanic and white males who have dropped-out of school. For these groups the rates of joblessness and incarceration are much lower. This is especially troubling since Hispanics have comparable dropout rates to black males but yet, as a group, don't have nearly the same rate of incarceration.
This must be a wakeup call. I fail to see how this cannot be anything but a clarion call for something to be done about our high school dropout rate. In some places it may be. I wouldn't be surprised if this story was part of the backdrop to the decision of the Maryland School Board to assume control over four Baltimore schools under provisions in No Child Left Behind. That was, no doubt, a tough decision for those involved but it certainly seems to be motivated by a sense of urgency.
We definitely do need a sense of urgency about this issue but there also needs to be more than No Child Left Behind; there needs to be more help demonstrating to teens the positive alternatives generated by having a high school diploma. The Times article made the consequences of failing to do so abundantly clear.