African-Americans make up a small portion of Arizona. But they have similar challenges in education as communities with large Black populations. Their battle offers a lesson on the solutions-oriented approach.
Teniqua Broughton, director of The State of Black Arizona, shared sobering news with Black community leaders and educators gathered at South Mountain High School in Phoenix.
According to the data, African-American public school students lag behind their White peers academically. They’re half as proficient in math and reading, at the fourth and eighth-grade levels, compared to White students. And only three out of 10 Black students completed the necessary high school coursework to qualify for public university admission.
The organization models its data on the National Urban Leagues’ annual State of Black America report. Education, along with other indicators, such as health and economic status, provide a snapshot of where the community is and sets goals.
University of Phoenix Chief Financial Officer Byron Jones accompanied Broughton. He was a panelist, along with Dr. Christopher Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University, and Dr. Charles Davis III, director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.
To spark a dialogue with the community about solutions, they aired the documentary Saving Tomorrow, Today – The Curriculum Of New America, and spoke about strategies to overcome the challenges.
Bolding, who sits on the Arizona House of Representatives Education Committee, told NewsOne that Arizona’s schools produce great results for many students, but most students of color don’t have the same educational options.
“There has been a mentality [among legislators] that as long as the system is working for my kid and my community—other kids and other communities will have to wait, and that’s the problem with our legislature right now,” he said.
He stated that community organizations are doing “phenomenal things” to improve educational outcomes for Black students.
“But there has been a fragmented approach to problem solving,” said Bolding, an educator. “So, while there has been pockets of success, it’s hard to move the needle because we are so fragmented in what we’re doing.”
Still, those pockets of success are making strides. He pointed to several groups that are promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training and mentorship to Black students. The Phoenix chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women is among the groups in the battle.
After the presentation, Charlene Tarver, president of the metro Phoenix chapter of the organization, told NewsOne that the racial disparities in Arizona’s education outcomes are known—but not limited to her state.
“We need to have a national conversation about solutions,” she emphasized.
Tarver, an attorney, stated that her organization advocates at the state legislature on behalf of the Black community. She said most community members are unaware of how several proposed laws can negatively impact their child’s education. For example, Tarver pointed to legislation to eliminate desegregation funding, which many say would harm Arizona students in low-income communities.
Getting information to parents is essential, Bolding stated. He said parents are unaware that many of Arizona’s high schools lowered their graduation requirements, mainly to keep their graduation stats high. Consequently, students are given a high school diploma, but lack the basic coursework to enter the state’s public universities.
“Many parents are working—trusting the education system to do its job,” said Tarver, clearly outraged. “This is one of the things our organization is tasked to do, advocate on behalf of parents. Our job is to see how we can empower parents, so that they become the child’s strongest advocate.”
Bolding said he’s a strong supporter of the “cradle to college” approach to education. He laments that his legislative colleagues fail to prioritize early childhood education by not funding head start programs. According to the Arizona Education News Service, the state ranked 49th in the nation for preschool enrollment in 2014. Broughton later announced the data to an assembly of parents and community leaders at Palo Verde High School in Tucson.
Hours before that presentation, Emdin led a training session for Palo Verde teachers. He spoke to the almost entirely White educators about strategies to engage Black students. Jimmy Hart told NewsOne that the Tucson Unified School District is under a desegregation court order. As the director for African-American Student Services in the county, he and his staff address the needs of Black students and provide support to parents and teachers. Organizing training sessions, like the one presented by the University of Phoenix, is just one of the tools his department uses. He said achievement and discipline are the two major areas of focus in that school district. He liked Emdin’s presentation because he didn’t tell White teachers that they are doing things wrong, but suggested how to work together to help their Black students.
“What we work really hard to do is create a collaborative environment,” he underscored.
Hart noted that African-American students in the school district represent just 6 percent of the student population, but about 12 percent of those who get out-of-school suspensions.
His staff attends hearings involving Black students who face long-term suspensions (often between 30 to 40 days).
“We serve as an advocate for students and family, help put a plan in place with the aim that students will return to school the next day, as well as provide mentoring,” he said.
Hart stated that he sometimes gets “pushback” from teachers, but for the most part, they collaborate with him on creating solutions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty