Black Community Leaders Call for Improving Quality of Education

Although many African-American community leaders believe inequities in public education are a critical problem, many also are optimistic that the quality of education for African-American students can be improved, a report from UNCF's Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute (FDPRI) finds.

Based on a survey of and interviews with more than six hundred and fifty African-American religious, political, business, and education leaders, the report, Lift Every Voice and Lead: African American Leaders' Perceptions on K-12 Education Reform (20 pages, PDF), found that 59 percent of respondents listed education as a "very serious problem" for their communities, second only to the economy and jobs (63 percent) and of greater concern than crime (53 percent), access to health care (45 percent), and affordable housing (41 percent). To address the challenges African-American students face, including students performing below grade level and dropping out of school, respondents urged more funding for public education, with a focus on improving resource equity, teacher quality, access to quality early childhood education, and parental engagement.

The report, which was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, also found that while a vast majority of respondents said it was "extremely" (63 percent) or "quite" (27 percent) important for African-American students to attend and graduate from college, only 3 percent thought public schools were doing an "excellent job" of preparing black students for postsecondary education; 88 percent believed they had a "great" or "fair amount" of responsibility to help improve the quality of education in their communities; nearly 80 percent felt they were "probably" or "definitely" not doing enough; and nearly two-thirds were "very" (34 percent) or "just somewhat" (30 percent) optimistic that community leaders could bring about such improvements.

There is "fertile ground for collaboration between parents and 'grasstops' [African-American religious, political, business, and education leaders], as the leaders expressed a strong sense of optimism in their ability to advance educational progress for students," the report's authors conclude. The report's recommendations include expanding community networks to engage parents as well as students; providing community leaders with tools to advocate for African-American youth; and promoting community engagement  with an eye to combating the inaccurate but popular narrative of apathy with respect to education reform in the African-American community.

"As the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation begins to move forward, there are various ways that black leaders can help shape education reform at the local and state levels," said FDPRI director Brian Bridges, who co-authored the report. "Lift Every Voice and Lead is a call to action for black leaders to use their influence to not only highlight the crisis in education for black youth, but to also find tangible ways to get involved."