The Hillsborough County School District has taken a step toward narrowing the achievement gap by joining a national initiative that focuses on African-American and Hispanic boys. This is not new territory for Hillsborough. But the district's participation should ensure that reversing minority underachievement remains among its top priorities. The entire community should make sure it succeeds.
The initiative is spearheaded by the Council of the Great City Schools, a national group of 67 urban school systems that educates more than one-third of the nation's black and Hispanic males. The council invited its members to participate in response to a call from the Obama administration. In February, President Barack Obama launched My Brother's Keeper, a program aimed at helping boys and young men of color prepare for college and careers.
At a news conference with Obama in Washington last week, 60 urban school districts — including five from Florida — agreed to carry out specific actions to uplift young men of color. Each district customized its own pledge. Hillsborough's plans include increasing the pipeline of students who are on track for academic success, increasing the number of students in advanced classes and decreasing the number of minorities who are suspended, expelled, chronically absent or placed inappropriately in special education classes. The district also wants to transform high schools with persistently low graduation rates among males of color and extend the same help to young women of color who face similar obstacles.
The district has worked to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority students through efforts that range from placing larger numbers of minority students in more rigorous academic classes to hosting focus groups directed to black and Hispanic males. This year, it plans to introduce a program that connects students who have attendance, behavior or academic issues with school personnel charged with making sure they are on track to graduate.
And there has been progress. Graduation rates are rising, and there are declines in the number of out-of-school suspensions. But the challenge remains great. In a district where the average graduation rate for all males is nearly 69 percent, just 54 percent of black males and nearly 64 percent of Hispanic males graduated in 2012. The number of students suspended or sent to alternative suspension sites also remains high, with more than 3,000 assignments for minority males in the 2013-2014 school year.
The entire community should embrace the district's pledge to minority youth and commit the resources to make sure it succeeds. Business owners, community leaders, faith-based groups, fraternal organizations, parents and neighbors all should find ways to help. No amount of assistance or volunteer work is too small.
Each student the district has pledged to help is worthy of the investment. The opportunities they receive could mean the difference between a path toward upward mobility or a more uncertain trajectory.