Last week, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, the Fort Worth superintendent and business leaders from throughout the city launched a new partnership to address the creation of a reading initiative to address the chronic educational crisis within our public schools.
While we honestly appreciate the acknowledgment of the problems, unfortunately many of us who have been working for decades to alleviate the failure to educate children in public schools, especially African-American students, were not invited to the meeting. Personally, I am not sure how you can honestly address these issues of importance without having all hands on deck and giving new stakeholders
a seat at the table (http://fortworthtexas.gov/news/2016/09/Mayors-Reading-Initiative/ ▪www.readfortworth.org).
This must be a bipartisan approach education reform.
Please allow me to express my frustrations with the current process of reform in Fort Worth and across the state and country. With all due respect to Mayor Price, in her call to action, she stated that over 70% of 3rd graders can’t read on grade level and only 16% of African -American students are reading on grade level. That means “eighty-four percent” of our black babies do not have a basic understanding of English comprehension.
This is a critical crisis in our city and a major failure for Fort Worth.
To solve the problem it is going to take a deeper, more comprehensive and coherent approach to seriously address the disproportionality and disparities within our community’s systems of care, especially within our public school systems.
My friend Deanna Haynes Greene once said to us, “that when one fish bellies up in the lake, you look at the fish. However, when 84% of the fish bellies are up in the lake, it’s time to start looking at the lake.”
On March 26, 2015, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Texas Justice Foundation started looking at the Texas lake of public education. Allan Parker and I had the honor of hosting the first Black Education Summit of Texas (BEST) at the Texas State Capitol during last year’s legislative session in Austin, Texas (http://uspastorcouncil.org/updates/black-education-summit-texas-children/).
The goal of the BEST Summit was to bring together some of the brightest minds in education reform to help us discover and explore ways to improve our understanding of the problem with educating black children in Texas and to also highlight several program models that are currently having great success at producing excellent academic gains with many of the same black students who are failing to perform in our public schools. The meeting took a candid, data driven and result-oriented approach to the problems facing Texas and the nation as it relates to educating our black babies.
Mr. Nakia Douglas, former principal of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy and current executive d irector within the Dallas Independent School District said it best, “men lie, women lie ,
but the numbers don’t lie.”
The numbers showed us clearly that for some reason, so goes Fort Worth, so goes Texas, and so goes the nation.
Ifeoma Amah, Ph.D., a professior formerly with The University of Texas at Arlington provided us with some alarming and credible statistics that shook up the entire delegation from across the state.
Dr. Ifeoma Amah began with a quote to place her presentation in context for the day.
“Realistically, there has not been a segment in Texas history which has been more ignored or completely overlooked, as has been the cultural history and institutional development of the African-American Texans”
(Williams, 1997,pp. 208-209).
Dr. Amah started her presentation by stating the problem:
• Many black youth are not experiencing optimal outcomes in education and society, which impacts their life chances.
• A monolithic picture that is often painted is insufficiently capturing the complexities, diversity and potential of
• Promotion of promising practices and programs that demonstrate effectiveness and offer b l ack youth the greatest opportunities to succeed in school and beyond are what we need to push the system forward.
She then proceeded by explaining why there is a need to understand the plight of education in the South:
• Most of the discourse on black student education within the PreK-12 context focus on major metropolitan cities: Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC
• The South as a critical racial, cultural, political, and economic backdrop in black education is seldom explored.
• The South is the region where Blacks comprise the greatest proportion of the total population South (55%); Midwest (18%) ; Northeast (17%) and West (10%) (U.S. Census, 2010)
• Poorest region in the country-South 48%, West, 45%, Midwest 42%, Northeast 36% (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2010)
• Return to the South Migration (1970- Present)-reverse migration to the desegregated South as perceived economic and social prospects for blacks improved.
Dr. Ifeoma Amah then went on to explain why we must get it right in Texas, especially when it comes to the education of black students:
• Texas is a major player in shaping national policies, initiatives and standards.
• Blacks represent 12.2% (2, 979,598) of the residents in Texas (U.S. Census 2010) and 14% of the public school enrollment (TEA, 2014)
• Texas educates the largest number of black students at the K-12 level in the nation— Texas (638, 377), Georgia (621, 222), Florida (607, 134), New York (519, 113), California (416,299) and North Carolina (394,635) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).
As she continued her presentation, you could hear a pen drop. No one left the room and everyone was focused on what were the current trends and what should we focus on as a state to correct this crisis within our country.
According to Dr. Amah, there are critical trends and i ssues across the PreK-16 Continuum Early Childhood Education that must be addressed.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 2011 Report :
• Disparities in development and school readiness are very much evident in the early stages of children’s development.
• Many of these disparities can be traced to the low socioeconomic status which is highly connected to race and ethnicity and other demographic characteristics.
• Children of color, especially in low-income areas are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs at a higher rate than white children, but the programs often are of lower quality.
• On average, children of color, especially blacks and Latinos arrive at kindergarten and/or first grade with lower levels of school readiness than white children.
These are self-defeating results and according to Dr. Amah, are having a devastating impact on workforce preparedness and opportunities for our cities and state because:
• A strong foundation of education is essential not only for individuals but for the economic success of our region
• Many companies struggle to find graduates w ho have necessary skill sets.
• It is important that we achieve greater graduation rates, increased college enrollment numbers, and stronger workforce preparedness levels.
The Black Education Summit of Texas ended with some clear challenges for our public school systems and for our communities if we are going to turn this state of emergency around. We are not trying to simply blame or shame our elected or appointed officials into reform. Our desire is just the opposite.
We believe there are some basic principles of reform that must be implemented within our public education system and our other systems of care if we really want maximum success for our children, our communities and our country.
We must all come to the agreement:
• Not how to fix black students, but how we can fix schools, policies and practices that serve this population.
• Develop comprehensive non-punitive approaches to break systemic cycle of injustices (e.g. school/ universities, community initiatives, religious efforts)
• We must also recognize the challenges that BOTH black males and females experience in schools and society at large.
I strongly, yet humbly believe that w e have the talent and treasure to bring about a massive transformation
of our public school system of care. The question is do we have the courage to change and the heart to help the
most vulnerable children within our society.
As one preacher once said, “Our History Requires It, Our Times Demand It, Our Children Deserve It and God is still watching.”
Reverend K.P. Tatum, Sr., is a White House Ally for the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, the creator of the Code True, USA Champions of Compassion and the new Chief Executive Officer for the USCONGO Agriculture and Medical Global Exchange Project in partnership with the Institute Supreme Technology of Médical of Kinshasa and the Association Campus of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reverend Tatum can be reached at 817-966-7625, firstname.lastname@example.org (https://northtexan.unt.edu/content/my-brothers-keeper)