Friday, March 26, 2010

The War on Illiteracy Has Begun in Detroit Public Schools and the Urban Community

Twenty years ago, the “Nation at Risk” report declared that illiteracy and poor literacy skills are pervasive in this country. They also found that remedial courses are required for a significant number of freshmen entering our colleges. Many of those issues have not been addressed twenty years later by parents, local public school officials, governmental, business and community leaders.

Especially in urban communities.

Black America is in serious trouble economically, and many Black people are living in “deep poverty.” Black people in America are not just poor by American standards; many of us are third-world poor.

To know the future of Black America in 15 to 20 years, one need only look at the dismal academic performance of 3rd- and 4th- grade Black students today. When it comes to reading, as a group, without the ability to read well, no future exists for Black children in America. The real tragedy is that Black American students are no longer just competing against White American students. They are competing academically against the best and the brightest students globally. And Black students are failing miserably.

This failure exists after six years of No Child Left Behind, 53 years of Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education, and 142 years of being technically removed from slavery. If Black children cannot read today, they cannot become the Black doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, bankers, accountants, technologists, business people or educators of tomorrow who will make Black communities successful. If Black children cannot read today, they are really no better off than their forefathers who were slaves.

This is why I was grateful to see this past Saturday 3000 parents, educators, community activists from across Metro Detroit signed up for the new Detroit Public School Reading Corps at Renaissance High School.

The Call to Action comes on the heels of recent test scores that showed Detroit schoolchildren ranked the lowest in the nation of participants on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math test.

In terms of performance levels in the fourth grade in Detroit on the math test, 69 percent of students scored at a below basic level. In terms of performance levels in the eighth grade in Detroit, 77 percent were below basic.

This is a ground breaking opportunity for us to raise up a new generation of literate students who will not only be able to read but to actually use critical thinking skills to change the direction of the city.

In America we can see how,

(a) Reading skill is the single greatest predictor of future academic success. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

(b) 40 percent of America's children have difficulty learning to read. (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, 2008)

c) Early Identification of poor readers is critical. More than 90% can attain average reading levels through programs that combine phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency development and reading comprehension strategies, provided by well-trained teachers. If intervention is delayed until age nine, 75% of children will continue to have difficulty learning to read. (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, 2008)

(d) People in the US who are illiterate represent 75% of the unemployed; a third of mothers receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children; 85% of juveniles who appear in court and 60% of prison inmates. (Straight Talk About Reading, 2008)

It's more crucial with your young Black because only 20% of them graduate from high school in Detroit. This must change as well.

Literacy on ALL levels are crucial. Education must be the #1 issue in America in 2010. I STILL cannot understand how so many Americans are not taking education seriously. Instead, we are so focused on the economy that we often forget that we need FINANCIAL EDUCATION to solve the problem. I stress this to ALL urban conservatives that education is the #1 issue facing America.

In other words financial literacy. However, you cannot solve an economic crisis if you have an astronomical dropout rate.

According to The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, a recent study published by Civic Enterprises that shared the perspectives of high school dropouts, approximately one-third of all children, and 50% of minorities in public schools, drop out of high school nationwide. In many of the nation’s “dropout factories,” the percentage of dropouts far outpaces the percentage of graduates.

This is not good for 21st century , and it is an economic death sentence if not changed for urban communities nationwide, or almost 100 million Americans. Can we afford to write-off almost 100 million Americans, or approximately a third of our nation’s population?

Even as Black people earn more money in the United States, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites grows dramatically. The indices that catalogue the misery in the Black community--poor and useless educational preparation, mass unemployment, low-quality housing stock, disintegrating communities, and failing families--are rising.

Black families cannot wait for the any government to save us. Annually, Black Americans generate close to $1 Trillion within the American economy. However, a 2008 report by the Target Market Group shows that we don’t use our dollars wisely to improve our plight in America. For example, in 2007, we had collective purchases that included $22 billion for clothes, $10.7 billion for furniture, $28.7 billion for cars, $14 billion for phone service, $3.7 billion for consumer electronics (not computers) and 2.3 billion on alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, the only area where we showed restraint in our spending was on books where we spent only $257 million, down from $303 million in 2002. We spent more on our finger nails and our hair, $6.3 billion on personal care, than on books and reading materials.

So we have to make education and academics sexy again, and we most begin to better show the aspirational relevancy of education to our young people, if we ever expect to meaningfully kick the high school dropout and illiteracy craze.

The DPS reading corps is extremely important because we have another shot to get it done right with our children. With this level of mentoring we are able to increase not just new reading and writing skills to our children but also give them a sense of purpose and direction. This is extremely important at such a crucial time where there is an all out assault on education in our community.

(a) We have to teach our children to get as much education as you can. Higher levels of academic and technical education readily translate into better employment, higher income, and more wealth. Education begins with you teaching your children to read well. The new hierarchy of human needs is air, water, food, and education. Without education, our children might as well be dead.

(b) Invest your money and your time in your skills, your knowledge base, and your self-improvement -- not in cars, clothes, furniture, frivolous electronics, sports, games, the lottery, etc. Second, learn how to let big companies work for you rather than you only working for them through stock ownership. And third, invest your money in the U.S. and global stock markets. The world is much bigger than just the United States.

(c) Two-person headed households are more viable economically than one-person headed households. Marriage can be an economic advantage when both parties are aligned on financial priorities and fiscal realities. Sixty-two to sixty-five percent of Black children are born into single-parent households and begin life trying to climb out of poverty. Most of them never make it.

(d) Start your own business. Few people acquired wealth working for someone else. By starting your own business, you can hire family, friends, and community members. Additionally, you build the economy of your community. Finally, you will also be able to pass on a successful business as a family inheritance to your children and grandchildren.

(e) Create a Will to pass on your accumulated wealth to the next generation. Studies suggest as much as 70% of most households’ current wealth was inherited from a previous generation.

Our children are not exposed to this type of knowledge on a day to day basis.

In addition, financial literacy should be mandatory for every child in school , but particularly low-wealth young people who may lack proper role models. You cannot live in the largest economy in the world and not teach young people the basic language of money, let alone the rules of capitalism and free enterprise. You are setting your child up for economic slavery and disaster.

However, the problem does not start with the children. We have a serious adult illiteracy problem that is not being addressed either. A major reason why Detroit and the United States are having trouble competing globally is because of adult illiteracy.

Currently, the United States ranks tenth out of seventeen industrialized nations in literacy proficiency ratings (reading, writing and math). There are 44 million adults (23%) in the United States who are functionally illiterate and are rated at a level one, the lowest of five levels of literacy proficiencies. Additionally, there are 50 million adults (25% - 28%) who are at the second level.

Furthermore, sixty percent (60%) of the unemployed in the United States lack the basic literacy proficiency skills necessary to be trained for high tech jobs. Also, the United States has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. The national high school drop out rate is at twenty nine percent (29%) and rising. There is no sense of urgency to these problems. These problems need national attention because they have a direct effect on our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy.

One quarter of White high school student dropout of school. For Blacks and Latinos, the dropout rate is fifty percent. The dropout rates are stagnant, essentially for whites, and skyrocketing for blacks and Hispanics. The gap in testing is in excess of thirty percent, whether black or Hispanic, behind white students. Furthermore, statistics show how high school dropouts have much higher rates of unemployment, become tax consumers, involvement with the criminal justice system, negative long-term health issues, welfare enrollment and poverty.

A National 2008 Report Card on High Seniors report that: 27% of High Seniors scored below in basic levels of reading and 39% of High School Seniors scored below in basic levels of math. And the United States of America ranks 17th out of 22 industrialize nations in the number of students graduating from High School. Meanwhile, a quarter of a trillion dollars a year are spent in our criminal justice system on prisons, justice, covering damages and loss GNP.

In Michigan, eighteen percent (18%) of adults, nearly one in five, are functionally illiterate. An extraordinary number of Michigan young adults continue to head to adulthood without a high school diploma or GED credentials. Fifty five percent (55%) of citizens in the Detroit Metropolitan area alone need adult education and training programs because they lack a high school or GED credentials.

This includes the number of many parents and adults in our community who are failing to recognize that Detroit is now locked in global competition with all industrialized nations on this globe, and that their attitude towards literacy proficiency and education will impact how well we are able to compete in the global economy.

In fact, parents' low educational expectations of their children are driving low educational achievement for them, which is making it tough for our country to compete economically in the global economy.

Powerful evidence indicates that the problem of poor literacy skills begin not in the schools, but at home, due to the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy. Poor academic achievement and dropping out before completing school are commonplace among children of parents who are functionally illiterate or have poor literacy skills.

For example, I often hear Democrats accusing Republicans of dropping the ball on Hurricane Katrina back in August 2005. But here is something that both parties will not tell you.

(1) One reason why many people decided to stay in New Orleans was that August 29th was one day prior to the day they would receive their next check. For folks living paycheck to paycheck, missing that next check would have been a disaster for them and their families, they thought. They figured they could ride out "just another storm," get their check and then make decisions they could afford.

(2) In the nearly all-black Ninth Ward (of New Orleans), more than a third of residents live below the poverty level. They ended up below water as well.

(3) Before Hurricane Katrina, 26% of New Orleans residents were below the poverty line, and 50,000 didn't have cars. The average income was just over $17,000 per capita.

(4) The money FEMA gave out wasted because people did not have bank accounts to wire the money electronically.

These are some points you will not hear in a debate on Hurricane Katrina.

The crippling consequences of illiteracy, the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, and poor literacy skills are: breeding a lifetime of self-doubt, disappointments and a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness and alienation; producing anger, poor self-image, loss of dignity and an imbedded belief of that their future has little promise. Additionally, the consequences hinder communication among family, friends and people that one must interact with just to co-exist in today’s society. They prevent one from being able to read a newspaper, write checks or a letter on their own. Parents are prevented from being able to read to their children, and read and comprehend written instructions.

Keep in mind that Haiti has a literacy rate of 45%. Detroit literacy's rate is similar to Haiti's and there is no way in the world we can become competitive in the global market if we cannot increase our literacy rate.

Just as the Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools Robert Bobb has called for the DPS Reading Corps to emerge from the community we also need to engage our adults in the same movement for increasing their literacy skills. The better the literacy skills the faster we can reduce poverty.

Even though the energy of the DPS reading Corps was electric Saturday the main thing I want to stress is being COMMITTED to the program. That means we have to be consistent, driven and dedicated to our worthy cause. It's important that we prove other people wrong in terms of changing the direction of the Detroit Public Schools and our children in general. We have so many forces that are working against the Detroit Public Schools it is not funny. We have people who do not want our children to succeed and would like to keep our children on a 21st century illiteracy plantation. To allow us to keep voting by name recognition in every election hoping for change when we know change is not coming.

It's time to lift the fog off our eyes and pay attention to the crisis at hand. This is not a gender, race or class issue. This is not about Democrats or Republicans because we have both supporting the DPS Reading Corps. So please don't make this a political issue. Political illiteracy in our communities equates to mental suicide when you take one side of the political spectrum constantly without ever being objective and solution-oriented.

Literacy means freedom. Literacy equates to prosperity.Literacy means power. Literacy with comprehension, is the purest indicator of academic and economic success.

Reading well is the essential step to solving almost every problem in the Black community. Reading well is the gateway to success for Black Americans in the 21st century. The DPS Reading Corps is a start. Let's ignite the movement to increase literacy skills not just in Detroit Public Schools but in all academic institutions here in urban communities nationally.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Knowledge,supposedly is universal,yet
educators, social scientists, and policymakers in America have rejected and continue to refuse to implement dialect or vernacular reading programs..One such program, the "Bridge Cross-Cultural Reading Program," still remains as the only scientifically tested and proven to be a viable means to effectively and substantially increase the reading scores of Black, functionally illiterate students in grades 7-12..This rejection of the Bridge Reading Program occurred due to the stigma still attached to using African American Vernacular English (AAVE), as a bridging mechanism toward effectively teaching Black at-risk students to read and comprehend Standard American English (SAE).."Between the Rhetoric and Reality" Lauriat Press;Simpkins&Simpkins,2009:Amazon.com..

Brian DeFrancesco said...

I don't buy it, Anonymous.
Millions upon millions of immigrants have come into this country with no or little English language fluency. Their children made it because the immigrant parents urged them to drop Sicilian, Chinese, Yiddish, etc. languages for American Standard English. They urged them to work and study hard. They brow beat them into finding jobs, spouses and self sufficiency before they made babies

They had no need of bridge programs. To suggest African American children do is insulting to those children. You may be uncomfortable hearing it, but putting a stigma on being a baby mama or daddy may be the single most successful stratagem we can adopt.

Anonymous said...

There is NO hope for these niggers......bring back segregation.....

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