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.





The Wealthiest Place On Earth (Live) – Jean Clervil


“A person doesn’t die when he or she reaches the grave, they die when their dreams do.” – Jean Clervil


100 Percent of Urban Prep Seniors College-Bound

Seniors have been awarded more than $6 million in scholarships and grants

Urban Prep Academy is continuing its record of success.

For the last three years, all graduation seniors from the charter school’s Englewood campus have been college bound. This year, the inaugural graduating class of the West Campus has  accomplished the same goal.

In all, 167 seniors, all African American males, have been accepted to a four-year college or university.

“What this 100 percent proves beyond a doubt is that it need not be the exception but it should be the expectation for every child in the city of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a ceremony where the final students exchanged their red uniform neckties with the red-and-gold striped ones that signify their college-bound status.

Urban Prep founder Tim King said he was exceedingly proud of the young men.

“It’s really heartwarming. It’s really an inspiration,” said Tim King. “These guys are an inspiration to all of us because they show you what can happen when you really work hard and do the right thing. I feel great. There are no words to describe how powerful and wonderful it is to be a part of Urban Prep.”

Urban Prep also announced a $150,000 donation from Citi Foundation to support the academy’s  Alumni Affairs Program, which supports roughly 300 graduates enrolled in college.

“To me, it’s a place that wants to see more young black men grow and mature into men and be successful in life,” senior Malik Battle said of Urban Prep.

Battle said he’ll be attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. in the fall, studying business administration and sociology.

“Urban Prep cares,” he said.

Urban Prep Academies, founded in 2002 by King and a group of African American leaders, will host commencement exercises for this year’s graduating seniors on June 7, 2013 at the UIC Forum.

The War on Kids


Are public schools becoming more and more like prisons?

That’s what the documentary “The War on Kids” says.


Based on interviews with educators, medical professionals, students and sociologists, the documentary, paints the picture of an increasingly authoritarian and paranoid school system that is failing its students, stripping them of their civil liberties and constitutional rights.

“Kids have no voice. Everyone pretends to care, but it is never true, and it’s the children who are being blamed for all the failings in the education system,” filmmaker Cevin Soling told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “People do not learn when they are in such an autocratic environment.”

The film points the finger at the public school system’s “zero tolerance” guidelines designed to keep weapons off campus. Spurred in large part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts have since adopted policies that strictly prohibit the possession of weapons on school grounds. And while each district has its own code of conduct, the film says some have broad definitions of what constitutes a weapon.

“The War on Kids” points out an alarming number of incidents in which children were suspended, expelled and even arrested for possessing food knives, nail clippers, key chains, aspirin, candy – even chicken strips.

In one incident, kindergarten kids were suspended for playing cops and robbers using their fingers as guns. Another student was suspended for drawing a picture of an armed soldier. In another, a six-year-old boy was suspended for waving around his breaded chicken lunch and saying “pow.”

Soling says some children considered problems are put on psychiatric medications in an effort to control them.

One student, Dan Rachlitz, says in the film that he was told he had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and was “put on drugs that made (him) high,” but found out later he didn’t have a medical disorder, he just acts a “little crazy” by nature.

Public school teacher Morgan Emrich noted that in his experience, the children treated with prescription drugs never seem to learn better, and lose their energy much faster.

“These are kids that used to be energetic and vivacious, bouncing off the walls and have a ton of opinions. Now they sit there and stare at the floor,” he said.

For Soling, the film is more about civil rights than anything else.

“Children have no voice and childhood has become pathologized. Kids in America are horrendously oppressed and we have systems or propaganda which obscure the fact,” he explained. “The complaints people have about kids – they don’t want to read, they watch too much TV, they have no respect for authority, etc. – are all a reaction to repression.”

Not everyone agrees with Soling’s conclusions.

“The anecdotal information, which enlivens any documentary, can be attacked as not the whole picture. ‘The War on Kids’ presents no coherent remedy for the various problems, but some may conclude that the solution is the abolition of public schools,” stated one writer for the Political Film Society.

A review on children’s book publisher Scholastic’s blog noted that “the movie seems pretty over the top, juxtaposing interviews with (mostly white) parents angry about how kids are being treated and footage of (mostly black and brown) kids getting arrested or searched for drugs in school.”

The Village Voice’s Ella Taylor wrote that the documentary is missing is “a dissenting voice to point out that some kids (and their families) do benefit from medication, that some schools are located in such high-crime areas that no security at all would be pure folly, and that some safety-obsessed parents refuse to allow their children to walk to school by themselves, yet drive them up to the front gates dressed like hookers.”

The U.S. Department of Education was not able to provide comment from a rep that had seen the film. However press secretary Daren Briscoe told us that the department believes that “students learn best in class” and not when suspended.

“We are obviously very engaged and concerned with making sure students receive equitable education,” Briscoe said.

*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.

Young Black Intellectual (18) Scores Perfect on the SAT


Jenice Armstrong: Perfect SAT score for Cameron Clarke, Germantown Academy senior in Philadelphia

Cameron Clarke, 18, a Germantown Academy senior, is one of 360 students nationwide to score a perfect 2400 on the SATs in 2012. (Steven M. Falk/Staff)
Cameron Clarke, 18, a Germantown Academy senior, is one of 360 students nationwide…

WE’VE ALL read depressing newspaper stories about underachieving local high school students. This, I’m happy to say, isn’t that kind of column.

No, I’ve set aside this space to give a well-deserved thumbs-up to Cameron Clarke, a senior at Germantown Academy who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT.

That’s right. A perfect score.

That hardly ever happens.

Although more than 1.66 million students took the SAT in 2012, only 360 test takers nationwide achieved a spotless 2400, according to SAT officials.

It was Cameron’s second try. The first time, he received a fist-pumping 2190 – better than 98.5 percent of all test-takers. But deep down inside, he knew he could do better.

He was notified of his perfect 2400 last spring, and I didn’t want the calendar year to end without giving this young, unassuming scholar a well-deserved shout-out.

So, excuse me while I get up from my desk and do my cabbage patch dance. After all, we reward outstanding high school athletes with pages of newsprint, giant trophies and all kinds of accolades. Even before they join the pros or enroll in college, male student athletes get treated like heroes. It’s high time that academic superstars, who use their intellects as deftly as their classmates use their bodies, get the star treatment, too.

No shortcuts here

“I put in a lot of work,” 18-year-old Cameron told me when I visited his house in Mount Airy. “I took a prep class with some of my friends, and I did a lot of practice tests from a book.

“But that only prepares you so much,” he explained. “The difference between getting, like, a 2400 and a couple of points lower is just focus.

“You can screw up or mess up on the smallest of things,” he said. “And I just feel like on that particular day, I was focused and I got kind of lucky, I guess, that I didn’t make any mistakes.”

You’ve got that right. Especially since Cameron had at first answered some questions in the wrong spaces. “So, in the last five minutes of the test, I had to go back and erase like 36 bubbles,” he said, still sounding relieved that he caught his error.

Brainiac in training

Cameron has been a student at Germantown Academy since preschool, and his parents had an inkling early on that their son was gifted. On an IQ test at age 4, he scored a 151, which is way, way up there.

His mother, Mary Jones, teaches Spanish at Father Judge High School. His dad, Peter Clarke, owns the Reef Restaurant and Lounge at Third and South streets.

They did everything they could to nurture that gift – even if they do sometimes come down hard on him for staying up into the wee hours night after night studying.

Cameron is musically accomplished, too. A principal cellist for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, he performed last summer at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival in Colorado.

A four-page resume that he handed me when I met him lists his other interests: He writes for his school paper, participates in a math club, tutors other students, is a senator in his school’s student government and has run cross country. He was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. His dream school for college would be Princeton.

“He and his friends are very driven, so I think they feed off of one another,” his mom told me. Now, that’s the kind of peer pressure I’m happy to endorse.

Another Cameron fan

Alfonzo Porter is a former high school principal and the author of More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Three Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax. He was thrilled when I told him about Cameron’s perfect SAT score.

“I have seen far too much talent wasted. Our young genius black children, particularly boys, too often wind up in the cemetery and jail,” Porter later wrote me in an email. “Hearing about perfect SAT scores is unfortunately the exception.”

“My question is, Why are we not making them household names?” Porter continued.

“Surely, if we can follow LeBron James from the age of 13, Michael Vick from the age of 14, etc., we can do the same for these young, inspirational academic superstars.”


On Twitter: @JeniceAmstrong



Literature to Liberate The Mind

School Yourself !!!

The Souls of Black Folks by Dr. W.E.B DuBois

Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey and Bob Blaisdell

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G Woodson

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Breaking the Curse of Willie Lynch: The Science of Slave Psychology by Alvin Morrow

The Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams

Revolutionary Suicide by Dr. Huey P Newton

Assata by Assata Shakur

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley

Is Education Important Anymore?

“… you can’t become president without having a clear stance on tax policy, gay marriage, abolition, military diplomacy or the free market. Yet, a clear and articulate stance on education, whether it may be, is simply not a prerequisite for public office. As much scrutiny as we give to cabinet appointments, almost no one cares about who becomes secretary of education.”

– Marc Lamont Hill