Nebraska is a progressive state in many respects. Last fall we raised our state minimum wage. The Nebraska Legislature is now on the verge of eliminating the death penalty. Seven years ago the Legislature established the Learning Community in metro Omaha, whose purpose is to eliminate the academic achievement gap between children from the middle class and those living in low-income families.
I am an elected member of the Learning Community Coordinating Council which oversees the work of the LC. As such I give a lot of thought to the plight of the low-income black community in north Omaha. My own answer to the question in the title is yes, of course, there is more we can do but it needs to be carefully directed. I have written several previous posts on this topic. Here and here.
For example, the Hamilton Project has an excellent program, ”Policies to Address Poverty in America,” which calls for a highly focused effort along the lines of:
- Promoting Early Childhood Development
- Supporting Disadvantaged Youth
- Building Skills
- Improving the Safety Net and Work Support
Mr. Robert Balfanz, the Director of the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, suggests focusing on the toughest 660 out of 12,600 high schools in the U.S. which fully one-half of non-graduating students attend. More specifically:
- Refocus these high poverty high schools in order to identify by the middle of the ninth grade the students most likely to drop out.
- Set up early warning systems so that adults can step in at the first sign that a student is in trouble.
- Employ additional adults to support students who need daily nagging to succeed, especially during the key transitional years in the sixth and ninth grades.
These two programs have lots of similarities and are focused on at-risk inner-city youth. Massive black underachievement is a huge social problem, and ultimately a huge drain on our entire economy as well. More than just good intentions are necessary for effective intervention. An intelligent and focused approach as described here would be a good way to proceed.