This week, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. This proposal reflects the Administration's priorities to ensure a world-class education for all students, provide opportunities for employment, and build strong communities. The budget includes several areas of investment that could provide education and employment opportunities for black boys and young men along the age continuum from cradle to career. It also expands supports to low-income communities for revitalization, poverty reduction, increased jobs, and decreased violence.
This budget still has many hurdles to cross, and the outcome is far from certain. The proposed resources, however, are an indication that the President and his Administration understand the need to invest in our youth, the workforce, families, and distressed communities-even in the face of tough choices about reducing budget deficits.
It is important to recognize that these resource allocations alone are insufficient to fully address the large gaps in academic achievement and employment for black youth, or the number of communities that need to be strengthened and rebuilt. In particular, there is a need for far greater investment in older black youth who have been disconnected from school or work. Many of the increased investments reflected in this budget are for competitive grant programs that serve a small number of states or communities. And in some cases, the mandatory or formula program allocations do not reflect the large numbers of youth and their families that we know are in need. Still, we view the resources in this budget as an opportunity to do more than was done in the past to impact outcomes for black males, particularly those in high-poverty communities.
On Wednesday, President Obama released his long-awaited budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014. Typically, the President's budget is released in February. This year, it was pushed back as he and Congress addressed the recent budget sequestration - arbitrary and indiscriminate cuts enacted through the Budget Control Act and the ongoing tug of war to fund the federal government. The President's budget ends sequestration, outlining proposals to increase revenues from high-income earners, but it also reduces federal funding to support low-income working families and communities. With so many already struggling, those proposed reductions have advocates concerned.
Still, the President's commitment to education, research, and infrastructure is certainly reflected in the FY 2014 budget. In addition to making unprecedented investments in early learning, the budget acknowledges investments for disadvantaged and disconnected youth.
Many people don’t really like to talk about biases, stereotyping, or racism. It makes us uncomfortable. Talking about it means naming or admitting to thoughts or perceptions that we have about certain groups or types of people. We all, however, have implicit biases – positive or negative – that are formed by our experiences. These biases shape our attitudes, decision-making, and behaviors.
Bias has significant implications across our society, and particularly for all populations of color. People (all of whom have implicit biases ingrained in their psyches) educate our children, provide services to our families, protect our communities, develop our public policies, and care for our sick. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity has released, “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2013.” This publication highlights research on implicit bias, with the goal of stimulating dialogue about its implications as we pursue social justice. The report provides analysis of implicit bias research in the areas of education, criminal justice, and health/health care. It also proposes solutions.
In addressing education, the report discusses biases that can lead to negative education outcomes for students of color. First, teacher expectations of student achievement greatly affect their interactions with students. This can lead to differential treatment and uneven placement of students into special education and gifted education programs. Similarly, teacher expectations of student behavior can lead to differential discipline in schools, as evidenced by far higher rates of school suspension and expulsion for black boys. The report also discusses how the unconscious racial biases of police officers impact their perception and treatment of juveniles, which has significant implications for black boys in school because they are more likely than white male peers to be referred to law enforcement.
Extensive research demonstrates that implicit biases can be overcome. The Kirwan Institute report highlights many techniques being used to undo biased thinking and raise awareness. These techniques include counter-stereotypic training, structured intergroup contacts that allow people to interact in cooperative settings and learn more about each other, and engaging in deliberative processing where individuals identify commonalities instead of focusing on differences. In March, Dr. Phillip Goff of the UCLA Department of Psychology spoke at Black Male Re-Imagined II and shared his work around identifying and proactively addressing bias in police departments across the nation.
Implicit bias is not a comfortable topic, but acknowledging its existence and relevance is the first step in addressing it. As we work to change policies and practices, looking at how we change the unconscious perceptions of black boys and young men is crucial. We cannot sustainably change their lives without changing perception.
In February, the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission made recommendations to Secretary Arne Duncan in its report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.” The Commission, established in 2011, was charged with providing advice to Secretary Duncan on the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities that create an achievement gap, and to recommend ways in which federal and state policies could address such disparities. The report focuses on five areas: improving school finance and efficiency; teaching, leading, and learning opportunities; ensuring access to high-quality early care and education; meeting needs of students in high-poverty communities; and, using governance and accountability to improve equity and excellence. Recommendations that have particular relevance to addressing high school dropout, recovery, and college/career readiness for students include:
These recommendations represent a strong step forward for education equity and excellence for all students of color – and, in particular, black males. Equitable funding is crucial to schools of concentrated poverty. Without it, they lack the capacity to address academic and other needs of large numbers of low-income students.
All the supportive services proposed, such as extended learning, dropout prevention, and health services, help to keep students engaged in school. High-quality alternative settings are definitely needed. In addition to meeting the academic needs of those not successful in traditional school settings, alternative programs offer an educational option for individuals who may need flexibility. Many low-income students or former dropouts need to work to support their families, may be caring for other family members, or are parents and need child care to complete their education. The flexibility offered in high-quality alternative settings allows them to remain on track and complete their education.
The use of technology is a solid solution to provide students in high-poverty schools with access to courses that allow them to be academically challenged and prepared for college and careers. This is a solution that could prove beneficial for both students who need advanced coursework and those who need flexible options. Finally, strengthening the teacher pipeline to be more inclusive and more prepared to work with diverse populations is key to achieving education equity and excellence. As these pipeline activities are being developed, high school students from these same high poverty communities with an interest in teaching should certainly be supported to pursue education as a career path.
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