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Posted on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

MLK Day forum emphasizes 'all hands on deck' to close nationwide achievement gap among blacks

By Danielle Arndt


Chris Asadian |

Monday’s Achievement Gap Forum, co-hosted by the NAACP and Ann Arbor Links, highlighted adult mentors, multi-level intervention and an emphasis on cultural strengths as important keys to solving the performance and graduation rate issues among black males.

Another item of importance?

“Don’t just wait until (Martin Luther King Jr.) Day or until February (Black History Month) to encourage them to recognize the positive contributions of their race,” said panelist Larry Rowley, a professor with the University of Michigan.


From left: University of Michigan professor Larry Rowley; Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township; Ann Arbor NAACP President William Hampton; and Skyline High School teacher Patricia Douglass Jenkins comprise the Achievement Gap Forum panel.

Chris Asadian |

Nearly every seat in the Michigan Theatre screening room in Ann Arbor was filled for a showing of “Beyond the Bricks,” which took place prior to the guest panel discussion.

The panelists praised the accuracy of the film in depicting the realities that so many black boys are facing, including staggering national statistics, such as:

  • 8.4 percent of black males are enrolled in gifted and talented programs, while a disproportionate number are misidentified for special education services.
  • Black students make up 17 percent of all public school students yet account for 32 percent of suspensions and 30 percent of expulsions.
  • 53 percent of black males drop out of school.
  • Just 2 percent of 4.8 million teachers in the United States are black males.
  • Black males are 700 percent more likely than whites to be given a jail sentence.
  • 45 percent of African American adolescents are living below the national poverty line.
  • 60 percent of African American youth grow up without a father at home.
  • 36,000 African Americans are removed from their homes each year by social services.

Rowley said the nation needs “all hands on deck” to address these issues, all of which affect student achievement.

“Quite simply, we already know how to close the achievement gap,” he said. “We already have the tools. … The real problem is we don’t always have the political will to design the policies.”

He said like the video stressed, the schools, community, home, social service organizations, local government and court systems all must work together.

“Beyond the Bricks,” released in 2010, addressed the pressure African Americans, especially males, encounter to “act black” and to emulate black rappers and other pop culture icons. Many in the documentary spoke about how they hid their smarts and a desire to learn while in school.


Ann Arbor Public Schools board member Glenn Nelson poses a question to the panel during Monday’s Achievement Gap Forum.

Chris Asadian |

Rowley said mentoring programs with successful black males at the helm help youth to disregard negative stereotypes and to embrace the strengths surrounding their culture.

Glenn Nelson, a trustee with the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education, asked about the tension that seems to exist between trying to empower African American students and trying to establish policies to address the gap.

Panelist and state Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, said the tension is real.

“It’s a balance. … We can’t be so involved with talking about the achievement gap that we make students feel somehow inferior,” Rutledge said.


Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, talks about his experiences going to a segregated school when he was a child.

Chris Asadian |

“The other thing at the policy-making level that you start thinking about is how closing the gap may be at the expense of students that are truly gifted,” he added. “And neither one is productive. Those (gifted) students ought to be allowed to excel.”

Fellow panelist Patricia Douglass Jenkins, a teacher at Skyline High School, said part of empowering students stems from developing relationships with them and knowing when to call the parents and when not to.

Also, she said teachers are human and need to be aware of their own biases in teaching. She added students of various cultures have different learning styles. Helping students succeed means becoming a better teacher and adjusting the way lessons are taught, Jenkins said.

She also touted recent legislation that changed how tenured teachers are being held accountable.

“I do have serious issues with how we (as educators) are being measured, but I do believe in that accountability piece. … I hope it helps to close the gap in some regard,” she said.

Monday's Achievement Gap Forum was the second of three to be conducted by the Ann Arbor chapter of The Links and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The final discussion will be in May.

Joyce Hunter, the event's moderator, said it is important to remember every child can learn. These forums are a "call to action," she said. Organizers are hopeful the discussions will help the community develop a comprehensive plan for closing the gap.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 4:11 a.m.

So did we look at other high achieving minorities, and see how they do so. I guarantee, some of them are darker than the AA. Also, why are the children of Africans doing so much better than the native born. Most of the Ivy blacks are of African heritage. Wow, I should get a publication and a research grant out of this proposal!


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

I have an idea. Why don't parents read to their children every night? Why don't parents turn off the TV? Why don't parents make a decent meal for their kids instead of going to McDonalds? (For those of you who say it costs too much, you can get a roast chicken for 5 bucks from MEijer etc., add a few heads of romaine lettuce (3 dollars) 10lbs of potatoes (5 dollars) and then buy 3 lb bag of apples for 2.59, 10 lb bag of grapefruit 3.99...... all cheaper than a combo meal at Mcdonalds. Buy a slow cooker, put a 4 lb rump roast (10.000), add a cup of beef broth, onions, carrots, potatoes... voila a wholesome meal. No work. Why don't parents make sure their kids do their homework every night? Why don't parents make their kids read for 45 minutes every night? Why don't we raise our kids to listen? Why don't we raise our kids to follow the law? We try to blame society, but we need to look at our own decisions and take charge. Parents are the root of all that is good..... and bad with children.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Parenting is the largest factor in determining a child's success. Please do not read any agendas into this statement. A kid's success starts at home. this all hands on deck agenda is garbage.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 12:54 a.m.

No it is an excuse not to take responsibility for your children


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

The "all hands on deck" part comes in when parents aren't doing their job, because you cannot force that.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

I did not attend this event, but I am struck that there is no mention of the importance of the culture of learning and curiosity that begins at home, in young children, and the crucial role that parents play. Positive role modeling is needed to influence young lives, to impart the importance of discipline and delayed gratification; that these can coexist with pleasure and fun. Early childhood (before a child even steps foot in a pre-school or kindergarten) should not be just about seeking mindless "fun" and escape to noisy kids' tv shows or video games. Rather, it is a time to fill their lives with art, music, rhythm, language, books, poetry, math concepts, drama and imagination. This all can happen at home in their first years, if parents would only realize this. With so many early childhood education specialists in Ann Arbor in these fields, we ought to set up programs to get parents trained and involved in the best start for their kids, before they have kids!! How about making high school courses in these areas as required as US Govt/Civics? Diet is important too; we need programs to teach young parents how to feed themselves and their kids the right foods! Cut the refined sugars, starch, processed and fast foods that make kids bounce off the walls! Learn to make nutritious meals and eat them together as a family. It's a time to start gathering stamina skills, social skills, listening and observing skills, and to gain a real curiosity and love of learning. This goes across the board, and will lift all boats. It's almost too late to turn these vessels around that have been allowed to grow up empty and without aim. The kids reach elementary school and teachers find there is no wind in their sails, no direction to their rudders, nothing powering their motors! They are uncontrollable, wild, not listening and not seeing. They lack the basic skills for learning. And we wonder why there is an achievement gap? Skin color is no excuse in all this discussio


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:53 p.m.

I did attend the event and much of what you wrote about was discussed.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

What is the biggest problem that we all face in education? Budget cuts and the erosion of tax monies for the last 30 years. Taxes have not kept up with the rise in personal income in Michigan for many years. Consequently, inflation and low taxes have eroded the education budget in every school district in the state. Now with Rick giving more to tax cuts (of course he raised taxes on the middle class and poor) and 15% less to eduction, in one year, budgets are even slimmer. This is where the money went for aiding gifted students, technical education, and programs to retain students to graduation. The districts have cut expenses and laid off many teachers just to try to keep their heads above water, but they are still drowning in red ink. We have all the commenters on this list talking about educating the gifted, doing this, doing that, but the bottom line is that the monied segment of our society has cut our taxes to the point that those with money go to private schools and those without have to stay with the underfunded public schools. Sounds like Alabama to me. I am glad that the people on this panel are trying to do something, but they are swimming upstream against a very strong current created by Grover Norquist and the rich Republicans.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 4:16 a.m.

pants on the ground, pants on the ground bill cosby, bill cosby


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

Garbage, biggest problem is disengaged parents or absent parents, or drunk parents, or abusive parents etc. etc.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

You don't pay enough taxes? What are you one of the 1% or something? Give me a break


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

Please point out to me one thing said at this forum that has not been repeatedly said over the last 40 years. The only thing that has changed is a new "initiative" we now call "Beyond the Bricks." After this initiative loses its luster, five, ten years from now a new initiative will come to fore and it probably with be called "Within these Walls." The point is, until and unless there is a solid commitment to by African Americans to "own" leadership in educating its youth, the song will remain the same and you will have politricketers and assorted individuals using black students to secure various grants and for other "scholarly" endeavors. I attended this event and found absolutely nothing about it that leads me to believe that the individuals who served as panelist have a clue about what needs to happen.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

sh1. Please tell me what "raise the village" means. Its time out for sloganeering. Hillary Clinton wrote a book years ago titled. "It Takes a Village," an African Phrase that has been around for many years. She made a lot of money from this boo and got a lot of liberal publicity. What is the status of African American students today? I researched the background of the people on that panel, including the moderator, and not one, hear me, not one has done anything remarkable in the field of education to be entitled to be called an "expert." A friend once said that a definition of insanity is dong the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That's what you are dealing with on this subject matter.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 2:27 a.m.

"Raise the Village" = not my responsibility.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Funny, I attended as well but heard loud and clear the African American community calling on each other to "raise the village" as well as get into education to help future generations. Wonder how you missed that.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Did Al Sharpton attend this also? Or did it not get enough press to be worthwhile?


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

I'm delighted to see that the AAPS teacher on the panel agrees that evaluating teachers on how much their students learn while in their classes is likely to decrease the achievement gap. True, standardized tests do not show the whole picture of student success, but they are one of the most important ways of measuring progress in closing the achievement gap. Holding ALL teachers accountable for helping ALL their students to progress each year will be a large step towards the goal of students learning "without limits and reach their full potential" as it says in the district's strategic plan. If school administrators identify teachers who are especially effective in teaching a particular type of students or body of knowledge, those excellent teachers can coach their colleagues who are less effective in teaching that group or that subject. Teachers will expand their repertoire of techniques and more students will succeed. I'm further delighted to hear from Glenn Nelson that he's noticed that Ann Arbor has gifted students. In reality, Ann Arbor has many academically gifted students, including students of color, but the school district has been systematically ignoring their needs in favor of special programs to "bridge the gap". This neglect by the public schools is especially damaging to gifted students of color and those from low-income families. Their parents probably can't afford to send them to Emerson, Greenhills or Summers-Knoll, even with partial scholarships. They may not be able to afford the enrichment or extended learning opportunities (like science or music summer camps) these students need to realize their full potential. The only way these students will realize their potential is if their local public schools teach them at their appropriate level of achievement. It's time and past time that we stop holding back the students who could (and should) be soaring ahead in order to reduce the achievement gap.


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Well, we got sick of the games being played in the Ann Arbor School District and moved to Livingston County 6 years ago. My daughter is a very high achiever and did K - 5 at King School but since she is now gone it should indirectly help. Maybe you could just get all of the top performing students to leave and then the gap won't look so bad? Of course you would then have to change the name of the school district to Willow Run. Here's another idea. Why don't you work to make the whole school system better for everyone instead of just throwing time and money at the 17%?


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Good luck with that. We've spent billions on closing the gap and have nothing to show for it...................


Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 11:26 a.m.

OH Sure Republicans are completely Blameless.