Almost fifty percent of black high school students in America don't graduate from high school on time.
No matter how beautiful, profound or august the many, many ceremonies were that we attended Sunday in honor of the Resident Diva's upcoming high school graduation, "almost fifty percent" kept coming back to me all day long. While I stared through the narrow glass pane of a door just off the vestibule of the church at seven forty five Sunday morning, drinking in the sight of the happy brownskinned faces floating atop their respective schools graduation gowns, I wondered about those other black kids, the ones who weren't graduating with their class.
Almost fifty percent.
It is a shocking number, until you realize that only seventy percent of ALL high school seniors graduate on time.
In October 2008, the U.S. Department of Education released regulations that change requirements for state calculations, reporting, and accountability systems for graduation rates under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). These new regulations require states to report and use a "four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate" with the following formula:
Graduation = # in adjusted cohort who earned a regular diploma
Rate # in adjusted cohort
The "adjusted cohort" is defined as the number of first-time ninth graders four years ago, plus students who transfer into the cohort, and minus students who transfer out, emigrate to another country, or are deceased.
How the hell does a teenager not graduate from high school? Most students take average classes, not the AP or honors courses. And if you are in an area with a lot of black kids whose test scores indicate that they are behind the curve academically, you can bet your bottom dollar that the schools they attend offer remedial courses for all the core subjects, along with enough simple-minded electives to provide all but the most determined dropout the opportunity to cop themselves a high school diploma.
Even so, almost fifty percent of our children - OUR CHILDREN - will not graduate with their ninth grade classmates.
This is going to be a good week in the Brown Man household here in the ATL - a celebratory one - and I thought I was going to stick to providing positive, life affirming posts this week, but this "almost fifty percent" that keeps ringing in my head is such a damn shame, I don't have a choice but to rant a little bit here.
We can't even begin to get in the game if we are doing the basics. Graduating from high school should be like breathing - an absolute necessity for ALL of us.
S. and I sat through the early service and watched the presentation of the Resident Diva with all the other graduates from high school and college. Their names were called one by one, just like it will be later this week. They stood in front of the congregation and listened as the pastor waxed rhapsodic about the milestones they had all achieved. Scholarships were awarded. The student's caps and gowns shimmered in the glare of the overhead lights all the while, as if they were a menagerie of brightly colored birds.
But with "almost fifty percent" rate of black high school students not graduating on time, these brightly clad specimens of African American youth might as well be on the endangered species list.
We are saving whales. We are saving rain forests. We are saving snail darters. But people, regular human beings?
The church had requested that the graduates attend both Sunday services to be presented to the full congregation. I am normally the first to grumble about the amount of time this church, like a lot of churches, seem to want to waste on dreaming up elaborate programs of dubious social value, but for once I was silent. Silent and smiling, because this was the kind of ritual I could get behind one hundred and fifty percent.
We passed into the dining room for a breakfast prepared for the graduates and their families. Most of the students had removed their caps and gowns. As they grouped together around the tables and reconnected or introduced themselves to new friends, they looked different.
In the hour and a half since they had first lined up, with just that small amount of focused attention they had received this morning, they looked smarter, and sharper, and more self assured than they had been standing behind that door in the hallway at seven forty five. The graduates-to-be looked the way passengers on a train look at the very beginning of a journey, right when the wheels of the rail cars they are in begin their first reluctant revolutions - like they were finally starting to get somewhere.
A parent, a woman in a black dress with a short haircut and an inviting smile, sat at our table. Ten minutes later it was as if we were old friends. It turned out that the woman was retired military. She had been a drill instructor.
So when I mentioned the "almost fifty percent" factoid that had been swimming around in my head all morning to the drill instructor, she looked at me as if she wanted to tell me to "drop and give me twenty for telling me this cockamamie story". "We, we, we, we, we - we gotta do something about this," she said. "Now."
And as I sat through the first half of service number two, I thought about what she'd said. We gotta do something about this. But what else could you say to a statistic like that? Members of the well scrubbed negro club have been saying this for years - for decades - but we have yet to come up with anything that can even remotely be considered a solution.
If the high school baccalaureate service is a preview of the Real Thing for graduates-to-be, I'm just wondering - what kind of preview did our high school dropouts-to-be have last weekend?