Strong Start: Symposium Offers Solutions to Education Decline
The quality of public education has been a heavy concern across the United States for many years. With the current downturn of the economy and downsizing of the school system, there is a growing concern about the nation’s schools ability to adequately educate today’s youth. Students at predominantly African American schools are at greater risk; according to statistics that show a large percentage of Black students are already at a disadvantage, more so than their Caucasian counterparts, or any other group in America.
Marian Wright Edelman, president/founder of the Children’s Defense Fund suggests that a “toxic cocktail of poverty, illiteracy, racial disparities, violence, massive incarceration and family breakdown,” has led to a gap in education, health disparities and broken dreams.
Recently, the Educational Testing Service and the Children’s Defense Fund brought awareness to this issue as they co-sponsored a joint symposium, called: A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys for Educational Success at The National Press Club, in Washington D.C.
ETS serves individuals, educational institutions, and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis, and policy studies. CDF’s mission is to ensure every child a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start and a moral start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
“The higher rates of drop outs, the higher rates of incarceration, the higher rates of unemployment, and the need to find ways to reverse those negative trends caused us to do the symposium, focusing on the root of the problems and an effort to find a long term solution,” said Michael Nettles, ETS senior vice president.
A Strong Start also focused on the link between early brain development and later academic achievement. The lack of this early brain development and academic achievement is referred to as the “cradle to prison pipeline.” The symposium reported that more than 40 percent of Black children are born into poverty. Poor Black children are behind in cognitive development at nine months and further behind at 24 months. It further reported that 3.5 million Black boys under the age of nine will not go to college or become prosperous adults. The above facts ultimately lead to a statistic that experts say are relative to the lack of education and that is the overwhelming amount of incarceration in the Black community – which is 63 percent of all who are incarcerated, while Blacks are only approximately 13 percent of America’s population.
“Early education and early development sets the stage if a child will end up in prison, even in the womb when a woman is pregnant. That emotion response, along with social development, is very important in regards to this,” said Catherine Beane, the director of policy at the CDF.
Beane also cited that the need to get involved and change the dismal outlook connected to the non-socialization and lack of education of our children is imperative.
“If a child is not successful in education the chances of them going to prison goes up dramatically. We, as a community and as parents, must be actively involved in our children’s lives to stop that” she continued.
NAACP’s attorney Wade Henderson talked of the importance of early social and educational development.
“The family is the first school the children go to. Reading to your child, having dinner with your child builds their understanding of words and learning, which affect these outcomes positively,” Henderson said. He is also the ETS vice chair of the Board of Trustees and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – one of the country’s premier civil and human rights coalitions. Symposium speakers advised its audience that the condition of education in the Black community could be observed and acted upon from a holistic and socially active approach. But, politics and public policy must reflect equality in the education of children in the Black community and poverty overall to be fully effective.
“Fighting to achieve an equal education for our children is not a light weight effort. Resources must be cultivated for them. There is a need to ensure we provided an adequate support on the federal and state level. Regardless of where they live and what their zip codes is, our voices and vote must make a difference,” Henderson said.
Organizations like the CDF are taking steps to make a difference. Its Freedom Schools – a national program that provides summer and after-school enrichment that focus on reading, self-esteem, and positive attitudes toward learning – are a lasting objective and outcome that have rendered results for educational development.
Edelman is actively grooming and cultivating young minds. During the summer, she brings 1,300 young people to the Knoxville, Tennessee to the Alex Haley Farm to be trained in aspects of better education to work within the Freedom Schools. Edelman also writes a weekly column, educating and updating readers on a variety of concerns regarding the education, health and wellbeing of America’s youth.
The ETS published an A Strong Start statistical profile that indicated other strategies needed to help combat the current statistics, such as better health care during pregnancy and for children, stability and security in the home, active neighborhood centers for youth, sex education, and birth control.
The groups concluded that the objectives and outcomes of the symposium where vast and attainable, like parents getting more involved from the womb and early childhood development, lifting their voice regarding concerns and voting for equality in education, and members of the community could volunteer and become mentors. With consistent effort, change could become present in the education of our community.