Stop blaming black parents for underachieving kids

Improving black students’ learning doesn’t “start at home.”

Mayors, teachers unions, and news commentators have boiled down the academic achievement gap between white and black students to one root cause: parents. Even black leaders and barbershop chatter target “lazy parents” for academic failure in their communities, dismissing the complex web of obstacles that assault urban students daily. In 2011, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg exemplified this thinking by saying, “Unfortunately, there are some parents who…never had a formal education and they don’t understand the value of an education.” Earlier this year, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman diagnosed that city’s public schools’ chief problem: the lack of “active, radical involvement of every parent.” And even President Obama rued last week that in some black communities, gaining education is viewed as “acting white.”

Clearly, there is widespread belief that black parents don’t value education. The default opinion has become “it’s the parents” — not the governance, the curriculum, the instruction, the policy, nor the lack of resources — that create problems in urban schools. That’s wrong. Everyday actions continuously contradict the idea that low-income black families don’t care about their children’s schooling, with parents battling against limited resources to access better educations than their circumstances would otherwise afford their children.

In New Orleans this month, hundreds of families waited in the heat for hours in hopes of getting their children into their favorite schools. New Orleans’ unique decentralized education system is comprised largely of charter schools and assigns students through a computerized matching system. Parents unhappy with their child’s assignment must request a different school in person at an enrollment center, with requests granted on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, changes were made to the timing and location for parents to request changes. A long line began forming at the center at 6 a.m. By 9:45 a.m., it stretched around the block. By 12:45 p.m., officials stopped giving out numbers because they didn’t have enough staff to meet with every parent.

Research backs up the anecdotal evidence. Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research recently found that African Americans are most likely to value a post-secondary education in becoming successful, at 90 percent, followed by Asians and Latinos. Whites, at 64 percent, were least likely to believe higher education is necessary for success.

Students take take a test at New Orleans school. Showing their commitment to education, black families stood in line for hours to enroll their children in choice schools this month. (Photo by Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post)

When judging black families’ commitment to education, many are confusing will with way. These parents have the will to provide quality schooling for their children, but often, they lack the way: the social capital, the money and the access to elite institutions. There is a difference between valuing an education and having the resources to tap that value.

A study released this month found 26 percent of ACT-tested students were college-ready in all four subject areas. Among low-income students, college-readiness dropped to just 11 percent. The study determined that it was poverty, not motivation or attitudes, that contributed to the lower performance. “Nearly all ACT-tested students from low-income families in the United States aspire to go to college — at an even higher rate than students overall — but many lack the academic preparation to reach this goal,” the ACT noted.

Privileged parents hold onto the false notion that their children’s progress comes from thrift, dedication and hard work — not from the money their parents made. Our assumption that “poverty doesn’t matter” and insistence on blaming black families’ perceived disinterest in education for their children’s underachievement simply reflects our negative attitudes towards poor, brown people and deflects our responsibility to address the real root problems of the achievement gap. Our negative attitudes about poor people keep us from providing the best services and schools to low-income families.

This thinking hurts not only children, but entire communities. Low expectations extend beyond the classroom into homes and neighborhoods. The greatest tragedy of the New Orleans school enrollment fiasco isn’t just that parents had to wait in long lines. It’s that the school district assumed parents wouldn’t show up. Officials assumed grandma wouldn’t be there before dawn. They assumed Ma wouldn’t take off work with child in tow. This is a sign of deficit thinking — the practice of making decisions based on negative assumptions about particular socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups. The enrollment center was understaffed because officials assumed applying for school wouldn’t demand a larger venue, like the Mercedes Benz Superdome. An aside: The Superdome hosts the Urban League of Greater New Orleans’ annual Schools Expo.

When it comes to providing a better education for black children from low-income families, I worry less about poor folks’ abilities to wait in long lines and more about the school policies, the city halls, the newspaper columns and the barbershops that are plagued with deficit thinking.





*Please Help Fund The Philadelphia Youth Project*


Click the Link to Contribute:

What is The Philadelphia Youth Project (PYP)?

The goal of the Philadelphia Youth Project (PYP) is to engage, encourage and educate the youth in Philadelphia through community events, ‘life-building’ workshops and educational events.

Why I am starting the Philadelphia Youth Project?

My name is Christopher McFadden Jr. I was born, raised, and currently reside in West Philadelphia. I have always had a passion for education. In fact, my appreciation and vigorous focus on my own schooling blinded my ability to see the poor educational conditions that were ongoing in my community. Upon completing my Masters in Criminal Justice in 2009, I became a middle school Special Education Co-Teacher at Young Scholars Frederick Douglass School in North Philadelphia. The three years I spent working in that community was an eye opener. It taught me to appreciate the youth even more than I did and that appreciation gave me the motivation to bring change to my community. My current focus is community involvement; specifically to help young men focus on academic and social progress. I am a mentor at Overbrook High School. I mentor young men between ninth and twelfth grade. My mentoring includes social and academic after schools programs, those programs are MAN Up, Homework club, Reading Club, and Fitness Friday.


The Big Event

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.” – Benjamin Franklin

The youth in Philadelphia encounter violence daily on their streets, and in their homes, schools, romantic relationships, and online. However, it is a mistake to see young people only as a problem to be solved. It is time to start seeing them as part of the solution to the crisis of violence in Philadelphia. With your donations, we will host the Philadelphia Youth Project Kick-Off, a community event that will invite community members, businesses, leaders and most importantly, Philadelphia’s youth, out to educate and inform them about educational, employment, and volunteer opportunities.

The Philadelphia Youth Project (PYP) will feature speakers and poets who emphasize the importance of non-violence and support the positive progression of the youth in Philadelphia. Along with the speakers and poets there will be companies and organizations that are specifically geared toward supporting the Philadelphia youth. The youth themselves will have the opportunity to sign up with the organizations and/or speak with the companies about volunteer work.

If you believe in the power of youth and support their progression, come to The Philadelphia Youth Project (PYP) Kick-Off. To achieve upward mobility in our community is not easy but it can be done. This is our opportunity to achieve upward mobility and change the route of the issues facing the youth.

Click the Link to Contribute:

What We Need

We hope to fundraise at least $1,200 to make this event possible. Our expenses include the following:

Cost of the venue:

The venue will be West Philadelphia High School.

Educational prizes:

At the event, there will be a raffle for the children to have the opportunity to win educational prizes. Those educational prizes will include Kindles, Nooks, iPods, and books.

Thank You

To show gratitude for your contributions, contributors will receive personal letters of appreciation for providing the means for us to be able to hold the event.

If the entire goal for funds is not achieved the event will still take place but we may not be able to provide the educational prizes as an incentive.

Other Ways You Can Help

All contributions are valuable and welcome. A most valuable contribution is your help in spreading the word for this event. There are tools on the Indiegogo site that you may use to share the information about the project with others. If possible, you may also use the social networking websites that you are a part of to share this information.