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NewsOne and Tom Joyner present BlackAmericanAgenda, the six issues we feel are the most important for Black Americans in this election year. Let it be your yardstick for measuring the merits of the politicians and parties on which you’ll be voting in November, bullets of wisdom for the ballot box.

For a list of all the BlackAmericanAgenda issues, CLICK HERE.

BlackAmericanAgenda | EDUCATION

The Issues | The Backstory | Numbers To Know

An Expert Says | What We’d Like To See | Policies To Support


  • There is an achievement gap between black students and white students.
  • Black males in particular are being left behind when it comes to education.
  • Black Americans are less likely to have a college education, and those without a college degree earn less money and are more likely to face unemployment.
  • The black/White education achievement gap is linked to economic disparities.


If you have a college degree, you are likely to earn more money and less likely to be unemployed, even during the tough economic times we are currently experiencing.

But for African Americans struggling with socioeconomic disadvantages and a broken elementary and secondary educational system, finishing college is incredibly difficult. In 2008, only 43 percent of black college students finished college in six years. For black men, less than 35 percent graduate in four years.

But many kids don’t make it to college. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union refer to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” wherein children of color in failing and segregated schools are suspended more often based on harsh zero tolerance policies that often introduce kids to the juvenile justice system.

There is some hope on the horizon. Much attention is being paid to the achievement gap, particularly among black males. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has used his own money to fund the Young Men’s Initiative aimed at closing the achievement gap facing young black and Latino men. And we are seeing strides in some areas.

The number of blacks taking Advanced Placement exams tripled from 1999 to 2008. At the same time, more blacks are enrolling in college and more are going directly to college from high school. There is also the realization that advanced trades such as electrician or mechanic can be viable, well-paying career options for kids not interested in college.


  • Rates of suspension among all students have increased dramatically from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000.*
  • Eighty-Seven percent of white kids enrolled in public schools attended schools where more than 50 percent of the population was white. For Latinos, 57 percent attended schools where the population was at least half Latino That number drops to 50 percent for Blacks going to schools more than 50 percent black.
  • In 2008, 20 percent of black adults 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33 percent Whites and 13 percent Hispanics. Asians led the pack with 52 percent of adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree.
  • In 2008, black females received twice the number of college degrees than black males.
  • The unemployment rate for blacks without a high school diploma was 22 percent in 2008. Eleven percent of blacks with a high school diploma were unemployed. Only 4 percent of blacks with a college degree were unemployed.
  • In 2008, 44 percent of Whites ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in colleges and universities compared to 32 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics

*SOURCE: American Civil Liberties Union


For Dr. Marcia Cantarella, learning starts early and is connected to the real world.

Cantarella, the daughter of civil rights icon Whitney M. Young, pushed her granddaughter to read 1,000 books by the time she reached the first grade.

It’s a recipe that Cantarella, author of “I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide,” believes should be replicated if African American children are going to break down the achievement gap that has them lagging behind in everything from test scores to college graduation rates.

“The numbers are grim and getting more so,” said Cantarella. “There’s a direct correlation between economic disparity and education. People with a college degree are less likely to be unemployed and earn 54 percent more than those without a college degree. When you have 30 to 40 percent of black males not finishing high school, there is a huge problem. It has really hit dangerous proportions.”

And because the nature of work has changed in this country, college level skills are more necessary than ever before.

“Fifty to sixty years ago manufacturing jobs were about physical capacity. They were high-paying union jobs. But as we shift to a more technologically based economy things are becoming more sophisticated. To be an auto-mechanic, you have to understand computers because cars are computerized,” said Cantarella.

Schools must do a better job of “connecting the dots” for students about how what they are doing in school will translate in the work world, Cantarella insists.

That includes showing kids how their math skills help with critical thinking and also providing hands on experience for kids that may be interested in careers in the trades.

“We must pilot apprenticeship and training programs because there is a lot of value to give students with the chance to be hands on in a particular field,” says Cantarella.

“These sorts of programs and give student higher order problem solving and communication skills which are really essential to be successful in the work world today,” says Cantarella.

“If students have the capacity and desire to do more they can shift direction. Once they enter post-secondary education or training, students often they have an interest they have not been exposed to,” added Cantarella.

In order to make college more accessible, proposals like President Obama’s plan to cap the amount of student loan debt repayment to 10 percent of income and allow loan consolidation. The loan debt is crippling and places an even heavier burden on African Americans, says Cantarella.

Although 80 percent of full-time college students receive some form of grant or loan for higher education, that number is 92 percent for black students, who also, had the highest amount at $13,500, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

African Americans in general are in trouble but black males are doing worse, she says. It starts early when boys, who tend to be more active, are deemed disruptive by teachers.

Aside from the existing bias, there sometimes is a perception of failure when it comes to children of color, said Cantarella. She added that Americans are passing on the idea to our kids that math is difficult when there are proven ways to help kids learn that vital skill. Wall Street games can bring finance into the classroom. Another program that paired high school kids with grade-schoolers to help them learn to read produced a number of kids interested in becoming teachers.

Cantarella says that there also needs to be a coherent strategy to addresses the problems facing schools and students from teachers, parents and government.

“We have approached young people of color with an attitude deficit, saying ‘There is something wrong with you and we need to fix it,'” said Cantarella.

“But what we need is a pedagogy of confidence. When need to have the attitude that each child is special, each child is fabulous. When you empower students instead of dumbing them down, they rise to the occasion. Our kids are smart.”


  • Kids reading at an earlier age. A goal of 1,000 books read by first grade, aiming for our children to read at or above grade level by the third grade to help close the achievement gap
  • Connect the dots for students on how their education will help them in the real world as a way to help increase graduation rates for black males.
  • Push universities and college to make post-secondary education more affordable and cap the amount of student loan debt students are allowed to carry to increase the numbers of African Americans in college.
  • Programs that present alternatives to college such as jobs like mechanics and electricians to provide more options, especially for African American males.


  • Address the student loan crisis by placing a cap on the amount of debt students are allowed to assume. Require financial literacy classes so students understand the debt they are about to assume.
  • Push the states to adopt and link federal government funding to standards and outcomes that benefit students, including the quality of teachers and year-to-year growth and improvement that are not solely based on testing.
  • Shift federal budget priorities by cutting the Defense budget to funnel more money to schools. Communities shouldn’t feel they must lay-off teachers to make budget. An educated populace is our best defense.
  • Create alliances with trade organizations representing industries such as electricians and construction that give students real world experience while they are enrolled in high school and a direct path to training, certification, union apprenticeship and employment once they graduate.

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