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Empowering Black American Parents

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis | , Jr. | 12/3/2010, 9:28 a.m.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

As we enter the final days of 2010, one of the outstanding issues of the past 12 months is the inadequate education that the majority of African American children and young adults are receiving throughout the United States. All parents, and in particular, African American parents, want the best for their children. Thus, the empowerment of parents around the issues of improving the education of young people in the African American community should remain one of the highest priorities.

They say that information is power. Black parents need accurate and timely information about the various options and rights that they have concerning all the educational systems, programs, and institutions available. Having a greater knowledge of how to access better and more effective educational opportunities is critical to parental empowerment.

Recently the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 12 Reading and Mathematics National and Pilot State Results were released by the National Center for Education Statistics. In both math and reading African American 12th graders scored considerably lower than White or Asian American students. There was a significant achievement gap in terms of the racial breakdown of 12th graders that took the test across the nation.

According to the National Assessment Governing Board, "The racial/ethnic gaps are more pervasive, and often much larger, than those between genders. For example, 52 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students nationwide reached the Proficient achievement level in 12th grade mathematics, compared to 33 percent of Whites, 11 percent of Hispanic, and 6 percent of Blacks.

These math test results are not acceptable. Empowerment is not about just being angry and disgusted, it is about channeling our anger into an effective modus operandi that brings about a positive change.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Ducan stated that the results of NAEP Grade 12 "suggests that high school seniors' achievement in reading and math isn't rising fast enough to prepare them to succeed in college and careers. President Obama has set a goal that the United States once again will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the end of the decade.

In a survey that accompanied the NAEP test, 86 percent of seniors said they expect to graduate from college." Secretary Ducan was correct in general terms. But when it comes to the disparities and inequities that Black American children and youth are facing in the educational systems in America, parents in our communities need to be more vocal, organized, mobilized, and involved in the decisions and policies that impact the quality of education.

None of the current data from national reports, tests or other forms of educational assessments about the academic achievement of Black American students should be just received solely as "shocking" new data or information. We have to use this data and test results to make the case for systemic change. Black parents have to take the lead in demanding effective educational reform locally, statewide, and nationally. There is a growing parental choice movement to improve education standards and academic performance of our children.

All children deserve equal educational opportunity. There needs to be a focus where the need is greatest and where the achievement gaps are so glaring and obvious. Low-income and working class Black families are facing increasing hardships economically as well as dysfunctions in too many of the schools in these communities.

Yet this educational crisis can be and should be turned around. Our children want and deserve a better chance at life and it begins by demanding and struggling for a better high quality education. Nothing less than the best for our children is acceptable. That is why I have been somewhat encouraged lately to witness Black parents bind together in the different regions of the nation on the questions of parental choice and educational reform.

Looking into 2011 and beyond, Black parental empowerment will be key to any successful movement for change in the educational options for our children. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) www.baeo.org provides some of the best information and strategies to empower Black parents and to help bring about a better educational future for all our children.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Educational Online Services Corporation.