Nobody agrees on exactly how many black males fail to graduate from high school. Everyone agrees it’s way too many.
So many, in fact, that nearly 2,000 people will gather today at the Columbus Convention Center to try to figure out how to attack the problem.
“The historic thing about this event is that in my political career, there’s never been this kind of gathering of African-Americans around an education issue,” said former legislator C.J. Prentiss, Gov. Ted Strickland’s special assistant on closing the achievement gap.
Graduation and dropout rates are vital barometers of how school districts are performing, but they are also notoriously unreliable and subject to errors or outright manipulation. Also, low graduation rates among black males are often camouflaged. That’s because while the state breaks down data by gender and by race, it doesn’t routinely divide gender within race.
In Ohio’s largest cities, the graduation rate of black males is 60 percent, compared with 73 percent for white males and 71 percent for Latinos.
In Cleveland alone, five high schools have black-male graduation rates lower than 40 percent. At East High School, the rate is a staggeringly low 22 percent.
The problem is not unique to Ohio. In Chicago, the citywide graduation rate for black males is 34 percent. A 13-year-old black male enrolled in ninth grade in Chicago has a one in 50 chance of getting a four-year college degree by the time he is 25.
Recent scores from the Ohio Graduation Test indicate the problem is far from fixed. In March, just one in four black male seniors in big cities passed the reading, math, science and social studies portions of the exam, which is first given in 10th grade.
Prentiss said the responsibility for improving performance must be shared by students, teachers, parents, elected officials, clergy and the business community.