According to a March 17 Los Angeles Times story written by education
reporter Richard Lee Colvin, 60 percent of Los Angeles eighth-graders do
not know their multiplication tables. Education rot like that is common
in large cities across America, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Washington, D.C., based Heritage Foundation has recently
published a study by Samuel Casey Carter titled, “No Excuses: Lessons
from 21 High-Performing Poverty Schools.” The study will knock your
socks off. New York City’s Frederick Douglas Academy teaches grades 7
through 12. Eighty percent of its students are from Harlem’s low-income
families. Seventy-nine percent of Frederick Douglas Academy students are
black; 19 percent Hispanic, and one percent Asian or white. Demographics
like those spell education disaster in most schools, but not at
Frederick Douglas. In 1998, 93 percent of its students passed the U.S.
History Regents examination. In English and pre-calculus examinations,
the passing rates were 88 and 87 percent, respectively. In the Global
History Regents examination, considered by many to be the state’s most
challenging, 95 percent passed, compared to 54 percent citywide.
On the opposite side of the nation, in Los Angeles’ sea of education
squalor, sits Marcus Garvey School. Its black students routinely score
two or three or more years above grade level in core subjects. Advanced
mathematics is routine. Now get this: Marcus Garvey pre-schoolers add
and subtract two-digit numbers, 4-year-olds know their multiplication
tables and fourth-graders study elementary algebra. In 1999, three
Marcus Garvey seventh-graders began attending West Los Angeles Junior
College after testing at the post-secondary level in all subjects.
What’s the story? Nationwide, schools with 75 percent low-income
black students typically score below the 35th percentile on national
exams, while black students in the 21 schools in Samuel Carter’s report
score at least at the 65th percentile and most instances higher.
Education experts produce all manner of excuses for the academic failure
of black students. They talk about racial discrimination, poverty,
crime, drugs, classes too large, too little money for education and
sometimes the legacy of slavery. So, you might ask, how come black
children at the 21 schools in the Carter report haven’t fallen victim to
the educational plague that’s destroying career chances of so many other
black children? Could it be that racists just couldn’t locate these
children and victimize them?
The reason why there’s academic excellence in the schools is that the
principals accept no excuses for failure. For example, Frederick Douglas
Academy’s headmaster, Gregory Hodge, says, “If you’re not interested in
hard work, then Frederick Douglas is not for you.” His school has “12
non-negotiables” that go from prohibition of chewing gum and candy to
respect for oneself, one’s associates and everyone’s property.
Non-compliance means immediate dismissal.
Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglas Academy are private schools, but
excellence is possible at public schools. P.S. 161 is a public school in
Brooklyn, N.Y. When principal Irwin Kurz first came to P.S. 161 13 years
ago, its test scores ranked in the bottom 25th percentile in Brooklyn’s
17th District. Today, P.S. 161 ranks as the best in the district and
40th out of 674 elementary schools in New York City. P.S. 161 packs 35
students to a classroom and 98 percent of its students are from
low-income families, but the teachers make neither class size, poverty
nor anything else an excuse for poor performance. Its principal, Irwin
Kurz, says, “It’s a lot of garbage that poor kids can’t succeed.”
Education excellence is possible among black students. It’s only the
education establishment, civil-rights groups and racists who challenge