March 07, 2013

By Rep. Karen Bass


We need to declare a state of emergency regarding African American education in Los Angeles if a recent report from an education non-profit advocacy group is correct.  In fact, even if the report is wrong we still need to address its conclusions about the state of education in the black community and address some truly concerning points raised about African American students. 

The report entitled, “At a Crossroads:  A Comprehensive Picture of How African American Youth Fare in Los Angeles County Schools,” was compiled by the Oakland based Education Trust – West.  In their report, the group claims that by the time African American youth reach the 2nd grade, they already demonstrate significant learning gaps that only get worse as they matriculate.  Sadly, according to the report, the end result is a higher high school drop-out rate for African Americans and a majority of black children being unprepared to attend our four year public universities because they failed to take the rigorous college prep courses needed for admittance. 

If these numbers are correct, we are at a point of crisis.  Something must be done when in Kindergarten researchers look at our children and say that only one of every 20 African American students will graduate from college if we do not make a significant change.

For the sake of our children, I hope these calculations are overstated.  We all see so many dedicated public servants in our community working so hard to deliver the promise of a quality education to our youth, under very trying circumstances and oftentimes without the necessary support they need.

That’s why it’s so important we convene a dialogue to discuss methods for federal, state and local government to reassess our efforts in educating black youth.  Even if the report doesn’t tell the whole picture, then we should convene to redouble our efforts to ensure that every child in our community who wishes to get a quality education has every tool available to succeed. 

Reports like these sadly often come and go but this time should be different.  We cannot give up on our African American youth or accept these disheartening statistics.  Black students should not feel that we have given up on their ability to learn.  They deserve adequate resources and to know that we care about their educational outcomes. 

This report should be a flashpoint in our community to rethink our advocacy and activism on behalf of African American education.  We need to take these steps to bring about much needed solutions and coordination to address the root causes of the systemic problems that can lead to educational underachievement. 

This work is critical because we all know what happens when African American youth fail to get a good education. The impact lasts throughout the rest of their lives with higher rates of unemployment and sadly incarceration. 

At a White House conference near the end of Black History Month highlighting the President’s Initiative on Educational Excellence For African Americans, local leaders from across the country said a frustration they shared was a federal education policy that too often changes the rules for state governments, making it difficult to put into place the resources, flexibility and planning necessary to help African American children succeed.

By working together, we can break some of the silos that exist between federal and state government and begin working constructively to bring all resources to bear in a targeted way that specifically addresses this problem. 

African American youth are the future of our country.  The stakes are too high for our city, state and country to let another report like this one come and go without all of us doing our part to advocate for more effective policies targeting the educational outcomes of African American students.

As a member of Congress, I’m committed to utilizing the resources of my office to be a voice for our youth.  Stay tuned for updates on proposed next steps. 

Congresswoman Karen Bass represents California’s 37th Con­gressional District and previously served as Speaker of the California General Assembly.

Category: Opinion