Improving Conditions -- Unless You're Black

In this piece, the author of the heralded Schott Foundation's report on African-American male achievement, weighs in on recent statistics and fuels the recognition that a particular demographic in this country continues to get short shrift in those policies and programs that might help alleviate the institutional racism that denies a people equal opportunity. Until our nation acknowledges the fact that we have not entered a post-racial society, the hope for change will remain a dream deferred. Educational solutions exist. Social science and neuroscience provide the beacons required for systemic transformation. It is time to recognize what the data suggest. This week's guest blog is written by Michael Holzman, researcher and author. - Eric J. Cooper

By Michael Holzman
Guest Blogger

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics has published its annual report, the "The Condition of Education." While much of the news is encouraging, other results portend devastating outcomes for black families and in particular, black men.

For society in general, things aren't all that bad. The percentage of young adults (age 25 to 29) completing high school or higher degrees of study is at a record 89.9 percent. More than one-third of that group (33.5 percent) have a bachelor's degree or higher degree -- also a record. And 7.4 percent -- another record -- have a Master's or other advanced degree.

This is encouraging. Given that educational achievement can predict such things as lifetime incomes and incarceration rates, we can expect that incomes will go up over the working lives of this generation of Americans as a whole, while incarceration rates ought to decline. More about this in a moment.

Interestingly, those trends will not be shared by all because young women are driving these educational achievements. Thirty-seven percent of young women have a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, compared with 30 percent of young men. Women leave men in the dust when it comes to more advanced degrees: 9.2 percent of women have attained Master's or higher, compared with 5.7 percent of men. (The percentage of young men with Master's degrees actually peaked in 2009 at 6.1 percent, while more and more young women get them every year.) The overall progress of women is a good thing and bodes well for the future. Better-educated women are more likely to join the workforce and are more adept at handling their family's health care issues, among other things (Business Week, March 7, 2013.)

While this is all to the good, the statistics -- and the reality -- are quite different for the descendants of enslaved Africans, especially young black men. When it comes to getting a high school diploma, they lag behind their white male peers by nearly 6 percentage points. More than double the number of young white men receive bachelor's degrees (37.1 percent) than young black men (17.4 percent,) and only 1.5 percent of black men receive a Master's or higher-level degree -- an alarming number that is only one-quarter that of white men. Awards of higher-level degrees also have been dropping for black men since 2007.

This ought to be a grave concern for this country, given the relationship between lack of education and higher incarceration rates. Incarceration has become a central factor for too many black families. As it is, 1 in 9 African-American children (11.4 percent) have a parent in prison, compared with 1 in 28 Hispanic children and 1 in 57 whites (Pew Charitable Trust, 2010.)

Blacks currently account for 12.3 percent of the U.S. population -- and 43.9 percent of the state and federal prison population (The Sentencing Project, 2007.) If current trends continue, a startling 1 in 3 black males born today can expect to go to prison in their lifetime (M. Maurer, Sage Publications, 2011.) Once they re-enter society and find jobs, the formerly incarcerated generally can expect to be paid 40 percent less than workers with less experience and no criminal records -- if they are hired at all.

This latest report from the U.S. Department of Education tells us that -- if anything -- it is time to write a new story on behalf of the descendants of enslaved Africans in America. When we fail to educate young black men, we too often consign them to a life of prison and low-paying jobs, and too frequently set their families on a course of poverty and unrealized potential. When we fail to educate our children, we all lose.

Michael Holzman is a researcher and author. He has served as consultant to numerous foundations and is the author of the Schott Foundation's series "Public Education and Black Male Students: A State Report Card."

Eric J. Cooper is the founder and president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit professional development organization that provides student-focused professional development, advocacy and organizational guidance to accelerate student achievement.

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