President Obama's State of the Union Address: Do the Ladders of Opportunity Hold Promise for Young Black Men?
President Obama, in his State of the Union Address on February 12th, laid out his agenda for strengthening the American economy, building the middle class, and, among other things, creating “ladders of opportunity” for all who are willing to climb them. The President advanced many proposals, some requiring congressional action, that if implemented could provide a portal to opportunity for young black men who are outside of the labor market mainstream. The proposals include: incenting the re-design of high schools to partner with colleges and employers to better prepare youth for high skill jobs; putting the unemployed to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods; partnering with the 20 hardest hit towns in the nation targeting resources at public safety, education, and, housing; strengthening families, with a focus on doing more to encourage fatherhood; tax credits and incentives for employers who hire and invest; and raising the minimum wage.
The President once again called upon congress to take action on components of his American Jobs Act which included the Pathway Back Work Fund to support creation of subsidized jobs, summer and year-round jobs for low income youth, and competitive grants for work-based training of low-income adults and youth. All of these initiatives – if implemented, adequately funded, and appropriately targeted –could have a dramatic impact on the opportunity landscape for young black men. But it will be a long road from the State of the Union vision to the actualization on the ground in our most economically distressed communities. Advocates will need to pay close attention to how these priorities are reflected in the President’s budget due to be soon released; how these priorities are protected in the congressional quest to cut the federal deficit; how and when congress chooses to act on the pending reauthorizations of workforce and education legislation; and, how the federal departments choose to reinforce the President’s vision of creating ladders of opportunity by leveraging the funding streams within their discretion to work more effectively and innovatively to help those disconnected populations access and climb the rungs of the ladder.
Whether young black men benefit from any of these initiatives will depend in large part on whether the funding reaches into communities of color and whether local, regional, and state collaboratives that form to access federal education, training, economic and community development funding are intentional in the design of strategies that reach young black men where they are and provide the interventions and supports they will need to climb that ladder to opportunity.
The big education buzz these days is about how to make students “college and career ready.” While this is certainly a positive goal, the reality is that black students, particularly males, have unequal opportunities to be prepared for college or careers. Black students in high-minority and high-poverty districts are less likely to have access to the coursework, the experienced teachers, or the guidance and counseling support that prepares them for postsecondary opportunities and success. In our nation’s high schools, there are significant inequities in course offerings. And in schools that do offer college-track courses, black male students are not in those classrooms.
Findings from the 2009 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) – an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights - revealed large disparities in both rigor and access. For example, while 82 percent of high schools with low percentages of black and Hispanic students offer Algebra II, only 65 percent of high schools with high enrollments of black and Hispanic students offer the same course. The gaps are similar for other classes like physics and calculus. CRDC analysis of student enrollment also reveals that Hispanic students make up 20% of the student body at high schools offering calculus, but only 10% of the students are taking calculus. CLASP is currently conducting an analysis of this data for black male students.
While nobody would argue that being ready for college and careers is a bad aspiration, we must look at this goal honestly. We must be inclusive of all students when working toward this goal. We must make more guidance counselors available in schools where students have greater academic or social needs, and ensure these counselors have the training, resources, and support to do their jobs well. We must place our most experienced, effective teachers in schools where students are struggling the most. And we must offer black male students the opportunity to take rigorous courses, encourage their enrollment in those courses, and support their academic success.
In “Challenge the Status Quo,” a report from the Black Male Achievement Research Collaborative, the authors propose a concept called Public Reciprocity in Education for Postsecondary Success (PREPS) that outlines a series of actions for school leaders, parents, policymakers and educational activists to begin the process of equal educational access for black and Hispanic students. These recommendations represent a strong starting point for making significant change.
In the coming months, CLASP will be releasing further analysis of the CRDC data to highlight disparities for black male students, particularly in districts with large black student populations, and proposing a series of recommendations for the federal government, states, and districts.
Since before the Presidential election in November, elected officials, policymakers, advocates, and media outlets have warned us about a number of looming federal budget threats. These threats have dominated our airwaves, yet morphed into background noise as we go about the business of living our everyday lives. Back in October, we wrote about the Sequestration and why it matters to pay attention. Sequestration represents automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget, totaling approximately $110 billion a year that were to go into effect January 2013. In late December, as a part of the “Fiscal Cliff” deal, Congress and the Obama Administration pushed this deadline back to March 1st. The cuts are divided equally between defense and "non-defense discretionary" programs -the term that refers to spending on a wide range of domestic programs including education, health, human services, workforce development and job training.
So, here we are again just 7 days away from yet another government induced budget crisis and we need you to pay attention! While there has been much national coverage on these cuts to the military, little attention has been paid to the impact these cuts will have on low-income children, youth, and families -- particularly their ability to access critical education, job-training, and housing services. A huge share of the people impacted will be black boys and their families. Across-the-board federal cuts will begin to take effect if Congress cannot agree on a budgetary path forward.
Without congressional action, hundreds of thousands of people will be hurt by across-the-board cuts to education, job training, home heating assistance, public health, and social services, to name only a few areas. For example, 1.6 million fewer adults, dislocated workers and at-risk youth would receive job training, education and employment services and 80,000 fewer low-income children would receive child care subsidies through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (which helps working families pay for child care and before- and after-school care). These are just two examples of how the indiscriminate sequestration would slash services and cut thousands of vulnerable families from vital supports they need.
The Coalition on Human Needs has created fact sheets for every state and for the U.S. that highlight a sampling of the impact of these cuts. Forward your state’s fact sheet to your Senator or Representative today!back to top
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