As you sit under the dryer, engrossed in this month's ESSENCE, look to your left and right. At least one of the women next to you would probably struggle to read this issue. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 67 percent of Black adults score "basic" or below in literacy. This is a direct result of our kids being herded into America's worst schools.
In Kentucky, for instance, 80 percent of the state's Black students are enrolled in just 12 of the state's 174 school districts. The result of being in these low-performing districts? Only 2 percent of African-American students met college readiness scores. In Indianapolis public schools, where 62 percent of students are Black, fewer than 40 percent could pass the state's high school English exam; algebra and biology figures were even worse. And my district, Hartford, isn't immune. More than 90 percent of students are minority, and nearly half of them drop out.
All over the country, Black kids are force-fed unequal education. In suburban communities like Palmdale, California, Blacks are being outperformed by immigrants who don't even speak English fluently, in nearly all subjects.
Are you riled up? Are you ready to save our children and, with them, our community? I hope so, because change won't happen without you.
I hold educators to the fire for the failure to teach our children. I've heard them blame race, income, socioeconomics, single parenthood, neighborhoods, hunger, prisons, crack babies, resources, sun, moon, rain, earth, wind and fire. But the only thing these characteristics predict is that our children will attend raggedy-ass public schools.
However, parents—especially you moms who hold it down every day—can, as our President says, be the change we want to see.
Parents have educational responsibilities, ones so serious that ESSENCE—this magazine you've cherished for more than four decades—is devoting an entire year to the topic. Our children can do better, and while schools still operate as they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 70 years ago, 100 years ago, that doesn't mean you have to. You have to set high expectations for your child.
You can't accept average. No one ever rises to low expectations. Your kids value what you value, so take an educational audit of yourself. If you care more about sports and entertainment than education, your child will, too. You have to make sure your child practices what the teachers teach. It all starts with reading—you reading to them, them reading to you. Nothing is sadder than the bright-eyed kindergartner who can't find his name tag on his desk that first day of school.
Change isn't easy. That is why ESSENCE is here to help. I'm so proud that they've asked me to be a part of their effort to lead the most important and necessary change of our generation. ESSENCE's education series isn't going to be the usual rundown of woe unto us, aren't things horrible. Instead this will be a how-to guide to success: how to dream big for your children—and show them how to do the same—how to make a bad school work for you, how to navigate unfair disciplinary practices, how to recognize the best teachers and, this month, how you can get your preschooler off on the right academic foot.
Our children deserve the wonderful life that a great education promises. ESSENCE knows this and together we are going to spend the year examining ways to improve education for your kids and our community.
Let's get started.
Steve Perry, Ed.D., is the principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford.
This article was originally published in the Feburary 2012 issue of Essence.