Columnists Lekan Oguntoyinbo Opinion

Just like charity, education must begin at home

Three of every five African-American students who graduated from high school last year failed to meet any of the ACT’s four benchmarks that measure college readiness — those in English, mathematics, science and reading, according to a report released this week by the United Negro College Fund and the ACT.

In fact, African-American students lag behind other underrepresented minorities, including Hispanics and Native Americans, according to The Condition of College & Career Readiness report, which was released July 27.

The troubling report also showed that only five percent of the approximately 210,000 African-American students who took the test met all four of the college readiness benchmarks — that’s one in every 20 students.

What the what?

Naturally, the discouraging data elicited predictable reactions like this one from Jim Larimore, ACT’s chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners, who said: “To help African-American students, we need to improve the quality of education they are receiving.”

About 70 percent of African-American students attend schools that are predominantly minority. These schools often lack the funding, facilities and superior quality of instruction enjoyed by their peers at mostly white schools.

But to dwell on that fact alone is to overlook other realities of this academic performance crisis afflicting African-American high school students.

As Larimore himself put it in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education: “The report shows that even when they are doing what they are supposed to — in terms of taking the recommended college-preparatory curriculum and earning a high-school diploma — too many lack sufficient preparation for first-year college courses.”

That, in my opinion, is the heart of the matter.  Here are a few thoughts for addressing this issue:

• Don’t look to the government for solutions. I’ve lived in cities where the state stepped in to run troubled school systems that housed chronic academic underachievers. In most of these instances, the state takeovers do nothing to increase academic achievement. In many cases, in fact, state intervention leaves the school systems in worse shape. Bottom line: government policies and takeovers won’t transform your child into a top academic performer.

• Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize! When I worked in the Detroit Public Schools system about a decade ago, parental participation — or the lack thereof in this overwhelming African-American school system — was always a huge problem. Sometimes the district’s community relations team members tried to entice parents to attend events or to show up at parent-teacher conferences with food or prizes — and even that wasn’t good enough to get many of them to show up.

There are exceptions, to be sure, but most high-achieving students have parents who diligently monitor their academic progress. Taking the time to carefully review your child’s homework, getting to know the teachers and administrators, and investing in activities like after-school lessons, math and science camps and instructional computer software is essential for making your child globally competitive.

Conversely, buying your children expensive tennis shoes and name brand apparel is a bad investment; it only provides momentary satisfaction.

• Treat this like the crisis that it is. Teachers can’t do it alone and neither can parents.

Many African-American households are single-parent homes, in some cases run by mothers who work two or three jobs just to put food on the table. These mothers often have precious little time to help kids with their homework or take them to museums or summer camps.

This crisis is an opportunity for the African-American community to do what it has historically done best — work as one. That means bringing together churches, community groups, foundations and children’s organizations like the Boy Scouts to invest large amounts of time tutoring, mentoring and preparing these children for college and beyond.

At the end of the day, your child’s future depends on such an investment. And so does our community’s.

Los Angeles Wave columnist Lekan Oguntoyinbo is an independent journalist. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo.