Can We Do More to Help Blacks Improve Their Lot?

 

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.
CaptureI 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.

How Not to Help Black Americans

 

“It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges.”                                                                  Booker T. Washington, 1856 – 1915

How do we lift up the black underclass, the school dropouts, gang members, and drug dealers who become criminals and spend their lives as a drag on society?  The Wall Street Journal’s (black) editorial writer, Jason Riley, addresses this question in today’s paper, “How Not to Help Black Americans”.  As he says “Upward mobility depends on work and family.  Government policies which undermine the work ethic – open-ended welfare benefits, for example – help keep poor people poor.  Why study hard in school if you will be held to a lower academic standard?  Why change antisocial behavior when people are willing to reward it or make excuses for it?”
A few days ago, Robert Balfanz, the Director of the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, wrote in the New York Times, “Stop Holding Us Back”, that even though 80% of Americans now graduate from high school, 33% of the nation’s African-American and Latino young men will not graduate.  Half of these non-graduates go to a total of just 660 high schools out of a total of 12,600 high schools in the country.  He suggests the following:

  • Refocus such high-poverty high schools in order to identify by the middle of 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 sixth and ninth grade.

Capture Such a plan has been instituted in the Chicago Public Schools as described in “Preventable Failure”.  As the above chart shows, it has led to dramatic improvement in the on-track rate of at-risk ninth graders in CPS.
These two school programs, in Baltimore and Chicago, represent what we should be doing to help all minorities, especially blacks, succeed in life.  Resources provided for such programs will do much more to eliminate poverty than expanding conventional welfare.