by Leslie T. Fenwick, Ph.D., Dean, Howard University School of Education
Some would have us believe that the core education accountability issue of the day is summarized in statistics about which subgroups of public school students are scoring higher on standardized tests. But the real issue before us is which states, districts, and schools are enabling academic achievement. Some states, districts, and schools are enabling academic achievement and some are not. There is a consistent pattern of resources in those states, districts, and schools which have high academic outcomes for PK-12 students and those that do not.
In high-poverty and minority schools, students are 70 percent more likely (than their affluent and White peers) to have a teacher teaching them four subjects (math, English, social studies, and science) who is not certified in these subjects or does not have a college major or minor in the subject. Compounding these classroom effects are other factors that systematically and consistently limit poor and minority students’ opportunity to learn. More often than not, these students languish in schools that are underfunded, lack contemporary technology, have short-tenured superintendents, a revolving door of principals, high turnover rates among teachers, and high concentrations of novice teachers and principals. Despite these dismal classroom and school circumstances, poor and minority students continue to be tested as if they have access to certified teachers and a challenging, college-preparatory curriculum. In fact, 84 percent of African-American public school students are in states that require a high stakes high school graduation test while fewer (66 percent) of White students are in such states.
While states and districts test the nation’s schoolchildren, who’s measuring these students’ access to certified teachers; stable and experienced principal leadership; advanced placement (AP) classes; and college entrance level courses in math, English and science? In Challenge the Status Quo: Academic Success among School-age African-American Males, Toldson and Lewis follow in the Howard University tradition of Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Charles Thompson who (with others) crafted the intellectual and legal strategies for the groundbreaking Brown decision. Toldson and Lewis issue a call to action and lay out a legal strategy for holding states accountable for equalizing educational inputs that impact access to public colleges/universities. The authors’ Public Reciprocity in Education for Postsecondary Success (PREPS) is an ethical and jurisprudential framework which challenges the legality of states operating high schools that do not offer coursework which fulfills college entrance requirements for state colleges/universities. Toldson and Lewis meticulously chart state-by-state public college/university math and science entrance requirements and then reveal the public high schools that do not offer math and science coursework that fits these requirements. The emerging pattern is a distressingly familiar one: public high schools serving high percentages of low-SES and minority students do not offer college entrance level coursework, particularly in math and science.
In Challenging the Status Quo, Toldson and Lewis reveal how states, districts and schools conspire to educationally malnourish some of the nation’s schoolchildren. Their PREPS framework shifts attention away from measuring students to measuring the commitment of policymakers and K-12 practitioners to expand public school students’ access to a certified and experienced teaching force, college-preparatory courses in math and science, and a fair shot at opportunity.
The purpose of this report is to: (1) unveil policy solutions for inequities in U.S. public schools that impede academic progress of school-age Black males; (2) change the public perception that school-age Black males are completely disaffected and incapable of adapting to the educational system; (3) reveal data that promotes a pathway through curricular offerings that will move Black males from public schools to colleges and universities; (4) examine the impact of teacher preparation and compensation on the academic achievement of Black males; (5) break the discipline gap barrier in our nation’s schools; and (6) provide the schools, parents, policymakers, and community leaders with strategies to support Black males in schools. Each of the sections of this report provides important pieces of the puzzle that are necessary to Challenge the Status Quo and make sure that all who are concerned can have the data to know that our Black males have the capability to be significant achievers in our nation’s schools. Additionally, it moves us past the negative rhetoric that usually follows this student population and charts a path to academic success.