COMMENTARY: Getting Real About High School Graduation For Black And Brown Students

COMMENTARY: Getting Real About High School Graduation For Black And Brown Students

By Nate Davis, CEO and Board of Directors Chairman, K12 Inc.

Our nation’s graduation rate is at an all-time high. The national figure shows 84 percent of young people, overall, graduating from high school within four years after first entering the 9th grade, a trend that has been on a consistent upswing since the 2010-2011 school year.

Still, despite much progress with that indicator, major gaps still exist. And there is great concern that the graduation rate hype not only masks those gaps, but distracts us from what must be our ultimate goal: ensuring all students earn a high school diploma and are college and career ready.

Even as overall graduation rates improve, Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind that curve. Graduation rates for African American students are 76.4 percentage points—8 percentage points behind the national average—and Latino students are at 79.3 percent. Native American students fare even worse at just 72 percent graduation. Meanwhile, White and Asian students are anywhere from four to six points higher than the national average.

None of us can reasonably expect the closure of inequality gaps, if we’re simply satisfied with overall graduation rates while resigned to stubborn achievement gaps. Yet, it seems as if we’re in a phase whereby these disparities are being treated as normal—“the way it is”—as opposed to addressing a larger parity problem.

We have to ask ourselves: are we having a responsible and responsive conversation about high school graduation?

The most recent “Building a Grad Nation” report from America’s Promise Alliance says that, “Twenty-three states have Black-White graduation rate gaps larger than the national average, including five states—Wisconsin, Nevada, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio—where the gap is more than 20 percentage points…Twenty-four states have Hispanic/White graduation rate gaps that exceed the national average, and in two states – Minnesota and New York—the gap is more than 20 percentage points.”

The persistent normalcy of lower achievement among certain disadvantaged student populations is deeply troubling. Closing those gaps should be as important—if not more—than simply raising overall graduation rates.

At the same time, graduation rates can be used to unfairly malign schools that are serving underprivileged youth and, in fact, helping at-risk students earn a high school diploma. Alternative schools are singled out for having four-year cohort graduation rates that are generally lower than the national average, but left out of the conversation is how these schools are intentionally designed to serve credit-deficient transfer students and former dropouts at risk of never earning a diploma at all.

Measuring how well schools are graduating students is important, but it should be done right, and must not create disincentives for schools to serve credit-deficient students or dropouts looking for a second chance. After all, what is more important for these students: graduating or graduating “on-time”? It’s why graduation rate calculations should be reformed altogether so schools are held accountable for students’ annual progress toward graduation every year, not just in the fourth year of high school.

Sadly, the drive to meet on-time graduation has led to recent cases of manipulation and fraud, which, of course, is wrong, but it also misses the primary purposes of high school altogether: preparing students for higher education, careers, and the workforce. The linkage between these goals—graduation and college and career readiness—is crucial for broader national competitiveness. Graduating students is meaningless if they are not prepared.

The number of high school students heading into remedial courses in their first year of college are staggering, and the gaps between varying demographics are even more troubling. Nearly 60 percent of African American students are forced to enroll in non-credit remedial classes in college, according to the Center for American Progress, compared to 45 percent of Latino students and 35 percent of White students. This means that Black, first-year college students, already burdened the most by rising college costs and loan debt, are taking on a greater share of the $1.3 billion wasted on non-credit remedial courses.

There is no one silver bullet that will solve our nation’s graduation problem, but we can start by realigning graduation standards to the expectations of colleges, career training programs, industries and jobs, and developing competency-based, personalized learning paths for students unconstrained by four-year cohorts. And we must finally address funding gaps that exist for too many alternative schools working to eliminate achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Addressing this complex challenge requires a mix of other solutions, too; improved learning models and instruction, greater support for our teachers, innovative technology, and increased services to disenfranchised students groups are just a few that we should be working on. But none of this can happen without educators, policymakers and business leaders willing to engage in honest and constructive conversations, and then pledging to act.

A rising graduation rate is worth celebrating, but let’s not become complacent.

Nate Davis is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors at K12 Inc., an online education provider for students in pre-K through 12th grade

Highline College Selects Dr. John Mosby As New President

Highline College Selects Dr. John Mosby As New President

During a special meeting today, Highline College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on the selection of Dr. John Mosby as the next president of the college.

Mosby currently serves as vice president for student services at Mission College in Santa Clara, California, part of the West Valley Mission Community College District. 

Mosby has more than 23 years of higher education experience and holds a doctorate in leadership/higher education administration from the University of San Diego.

The selection follows a 10-month national search to fill the vacancy left by Dr. Jack Bermingham, who retired in August 2017 after more than a decade as president. 

“Our goal has been to find an open, inspirational leader who embodies and promotes the college’s values of diversity, access, equity and community and is a fit for the unique Highline culture and environment,” said Debrena Jackson Gandy, chair of the five-member board. “We are confident that we found such a leader in Dr. Mosby.”

Dr. Jeff Wagnitz will continue to serve as interim president until Mosby assumes the post, after which he will return full time to his previous role as a vice president. Mosby is slated to join Highline in July 2018. 

Founded in 1961 as the first community college in King County, Highline today serves 17,000 students and is the most diverse higher education institution in the state, with more than 70 percent students of color.

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Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Encourages Howard Graduates To Achieve Your Purpose

Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Encourages Howard Graduates To Achieve Your Purpose

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from Howard University

(Trice Edney Wire) – Howard University alumnus and award-winning actor Chadwick Boseman spoke to graduates about the significance of making it to the top of the Hilltop during the Howard University 2018 Commencement Convocation May 12.

In front of an audience of more than 8,000 family and friends, Boseman encouraged the graduates to not only exceed in their next steps, but also strive to achieve their life’s purpose.

“When you have reached the Hilltop and you are deciding on next steps, you would rather find purpose than a career. Purpose is an essential element of you that crosses disciplines,” said Boseman.

He applauded the members of the class of 2018 for climbing up their academic slopes and making it up the Hilltop.

“The Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here,” said Boseman. “Each of you have had your own difficulties with The Hill, but it’s okay because you made it on top. Sometimes, you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you.”

Boseman also declared Alma Mater, “a magical place – where the dynamics of positive and negative seems to exist in extremes.” He referenced an inspirational moment he experienced when meeting the iconic Muhammad Ali on the University yard; highlighting how at Howard, magical moments can happen to give students powerful encouragement on their toughest days.

“I remember walking across this yard, when Muhammad Ali was walking towards me with his hands raised in a quintessential guard. I was game to play along with him,” said Boseman. “What an honor to be challenged by the G.O.A.T. I walked away floating like a butterfly…walked away light and ready to take on the world. That is the magic of this place. Almost anything can happen here.”

A native of South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University and attended the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford University. Thereafter, Boseman began his career as an actor, director and writer. He starred as T’Challa/Black Panther in the worldwide phenomena Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Boseman’s breakout performance came in 2013 when he received rave reviews for his portrayal of the legendary Jackie Robinson in Warner Bros’ “42.” He previously starred in the title role of Open Road Films’ “Marshall” alongside Josh Gad. The film tells the story of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, who graduated as valedictorian from Howard University School of Law in 1933.

This year’s Commencement Convocation marks the commemoration of Howard University’s 150th graduating class. Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick said the University’s establishment represents one of the most noteworthy accomplishments in the history of American colleges and universities.

During his remarks, Dr. Frederick discussed how Boseman and his classmates advocated and participated in a three-day protest against the University to dismiss an initiative to transition the College of Fine Arts into the Department of Fine Arts. The protest was unsuccessful in stopping the transition. However, today Frederick, alongside Boseman, announced a campaign to re-establish the College of Fine Arts and launch an Endowed College of Fine Arts Award.

To the Class of 2018, Dr. Frederick encouraged the graduates to be bold as they embark into their chosen careers.

“Don’t stand safely on the sidelines; take risks, learn how to be wrong. It is the best way to learn and grow,” said Dr. Frederick. “Build a culture of generous listening so that others may be emboldened to take risks, too.”

Howard University awarded 2,217 degrees, including 343 master’s degrees, and 90 Ph.Ds. More than 382 students received professional degrees in law, medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. Howard University has the only dental and pharmacy colleges in the District of Columbia. The 2018 graduates represent 39 states and 32 countries; 117 graduates are from the District of Columbia.

In addition to Boseman, who received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the 2018 Howard University honorary degree recipients included:

Vivian W. Pinn, honorary Doctor of Science. Pinn was the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and was associate director for research on women’s health at NIH. She held these positions from 1991 until her retirement in 2011. During that time, she established and co-chaired the NIH Committee on Women in Biomedical Careers with the NIH Director. Since her retirement, she has been named as a senior scientist emerita at the NIH Fogarty International Center. Pinn came to the NIH from the Howard University College of Medicine where she had been professor and chair of the Department of Pathology since 1982, the third woman in the United States to hold such an appointment. She was honored by the College of Medicine as one of its “Magnificent Professors” in 2014.

Colbert I. King, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. King writes a weekly column that runs in The Washington Post. In 2003, King won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “his against-the-grain columns that speak to people in power with ferocity and wisdom.” King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served for several years as deputy editorial page editor. Earlier in his career, he was an executive vice president of Riggs National Bank, U.S. executive director of the World Bank, a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, minority staff director of the U.S. Senate’s District of Columbia Committee, a State Department diplomat stationed at the U.S. embassy in Bonn, Germany, and a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s Corps. King grew up in Washington. He is married to Gwendolyn King, whom he met at Howard University while they were both undergraduates.

Gwendolyn Stewart King, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She is president of Podium Prose, a speaker’s bureau and speechwriting service in Washington, D.C. Prior to the launch of the company, King was the senior vice president of corporate and public affairs for PECO Energy Company (now known as Exelon) until her retirement in 1998. From 1989 to 1992, she served as the eleventh Commissioner of Social Security. She held high-level U.S. government appointments in Inter-Governmental Affairs, Women’s Business Enterprise and Social Security from President Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush Administrations. King graduated cum laude from Howard University and has received the Alumni Award for Postgraduate Achievement. In 2008, she and her husband established the Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University.

Said Dr. Frederick. “Our 2018 honorary degree recipients are individuals who have reached great success in their respective professional fields. Each honoree embodies the spirit and aspiration that guides Howard’s mission of excellence in truth and service.”

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Creating Equality Through Education

Creating Equality Through Education

Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange

By Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D., President, Seattle Central College

THE SEATTLE MEDIUM — On my desk, like many of you, I have a mousepad.

On my mousepad is a picture of African American students at work in a segregated classroom in 1945. Above that picture is the word OPPORTUNITY. Below, it reads, “Being able to see past traditional barriers and having an intense belief in your ideas and abilities will help you take advantage of any opportunity.”

I purchased this mousepad on a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, mere feet from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 50 years ago.

Although that mousepad is a mundane detail in my day-to-day work, it is a daily reminder of the fight for opportunity at the heart of Dr. King’s work. That mission is as important now as it was 50 years ago. And, as an educator, it is a mission that I am connected to and responsible for.

In the simplest terms, education is a civil right. Access to education is access to opportunity. It is the path to career advancement. The key to closing the income gap. It can drive equity in housing. It is a proven determinant of overall health and wellbeing. It will mold the future African American leaders of industry, politics and social justice.

But as I look at the state of our education system, it’s abundantly clear that our work in securing educational equality is far from finished.

We live in a state with one of the nation’s most regressive tax structures and an education system so chronically underfunded that the Washington State Supreme Court demanded that our legislature find billions of dollars to support schools by 2018. Beyond just securing the funds our schools need, we face an uphill battle to ensure these funds are distributed equitably to the schools that need it most.

With only one in five workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers identifying as black or Latino, we face a diversity problem and growing income gap in the region’s most lucrative careers. Closing this gap will require educational innovation and proactive policies from employers to create new paths to high-paying jobs.

And with Seattle’s changing economy and skyrocketing cost of living, these pressures will only continue to build.

That is not to say that we haven’t made incredible progress. As a community, and as a country, we have come a long way since Dr. King’s death in 1968. The fact that I, an African American woman, the granddaughter of a sharecropper and a maid, am writing this from behind a college president’s desk is a testament to that progress. But in the 50th year after Dr. King’s death, I would like to challenge our community to rediscover his sense of urgency and reignite the resolve and focus that fueled the progress of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Together, we can make Seattle an example to our nation of what is possible when education is accessible. We can define equal opportunity. We can prove that fostering professional communities made up of diverse cultures, backgrounds and perspectives is not only the right thing to do socially, it is the recipe for innovation.

I invite you to join the Seattle Colleges to help make educational equality a reality. If you are a business leader, consider partnering with us to find the employees your company needs to thrive. If you are a parent, introduce your kids to the affordable, local opportunities provided by the Seattle Colleges. If you are a teacher or guidance counselor, help your students see that a great postsecondary education can begin with community college.

Together we can create a future full of opportunity. As a community of educators, business leaders, parents, voters and activists, it is time to fulfill Dr. King’s vision.

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