According to a March 17 Los Angeles Times story written by educationreporter Richard Lee Colvin, 60 percent of Los Angeles eighth-graders donot know their multiplication tables. Education rot like that is commonin large cities across America, but it doesn't have to be that way.
The Washington, D.C., based Heritage Foundation has recentlypublished a study by Samuel Casey Carter titled, "No Excuses: Lessonsfrom 21 High-Performing Poverty Schools." The study will knock yoursocks off. New York City's Frederick Douglas Academy teaches grades 7through 12. Eighty percent of its students are from Harlem's low-incomefamilies. Seventy-nine percent of Frederick Douglas Academy students areblack; 19 percent Hispanic, and one percent Asian or white. Demographicslike those spell education disaster in most schools, but not atFrederick 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 GlobalHistory Regents examination, considered by many to be the state's mostchallenging, 95 percent passed, compared to 54 percent citywide.
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On the opposite side of the nation, in Los Angeles' sea of educationsqualor, sits Marcus Garvey School. Its black students routinely scoretwo or three or more years above grade level in core subjects. Advancedmathematics is routine. Now get this: Marcus Garvey pre-schoolers addand subtract two-digit numbers, 4-year-olds know their multiplicationtables and fourth-graders study elementary algebra. In 1999, threeMarcus Garvey seventh-graders began attending West Los Angeles JuniorCollege after testing at the post-secondary level in all subjects.
What's the story? Nationwide, schools with 75 percent low-incomeblack students typically score below the 35th percentile on nationalexams, while black students in the 21 schools in Samuel Carter's reportscore at least at the 65th percentile and most instances higher.Education experts produce all manner of excuses for the academic failureof black students. They talk about racial discrimination, poverty,crime, drugs, classes too large, too little money for education andsometimes the legacy of slavery. So, you might ask, how come blackchildren at the 21 schools in the Carter report haven't fallen victim tothe educational plague that's destroying career chances of so many otherblack children? Could it be that racists just couldn't locate thesechildren and victimize them?
The reason why there's academic excellence in the schools is that theprincipals accept no excuses for failure. For example, Frederick DouglasAcademy's headmaster, Gregory Hodge, says, "If you're not interested inhard work, then Frederick Douglas is not for you." His school has "12non-negotiables" that go from prohibition of chewing gum and candy torespect for oneself, one's associates and everyone's property.Non-compliance means immediate dismissal.
Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglas Academy are private schools, butexcellence is possible at public schools. P.S. 161 is a public school inBrooklyn, N.Y. When principal Irwin Kurz first came to P.S. 161 13 yearsago, its test scores ranked in the bottom 25th percentile in Brooklyn's17th District. Today, P.S. 161 ranks as the best in the district and40th out of 674 elementary schools in New York City. P.S. 161 packs 35students to a classroom and 98 percent of its students are fromlow-income families, but the teachers make neither class size, povertynor anything else an excuse for poor performance. Its principal, IrwinKurz, says, "It's a lot of garbage that poor kids can't succeed."
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Education excellence is possible among black students. It's only theeducation establishment, civil-rights groups and racists who challengethat fact.