More than 400 thought leaders in education, child advocates, researchers and policymakers from across the nation gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss strategies to close opportunity gaps for the 1.8 million Black teenagers, ages 15–19, living in the United States.

Co-sponsored by Education Testing Service (ETS) and the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), the symposium, Black Male Teens: Moving to Success in the High School Years, focused on highly effective programs that help prepare Black male teens for college, work and productive lives.

“Only 52 percent of Black males graduate from high school in four years, compared with 78 percent of White males,” said Michael Nettles, senior vice president of ETS’s Policy Evaluation Research Center. “One in four African-American students attends a dropout factory — a high school where the senior class consists of less than 60 percent of the freshmen who enrolled four years earlier.”

“Ensuring a quality education for all children is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement. American schools are failing Black young men, leaving them unprepared for college and career opportunities. Schools with 90 percent or more students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more White students,” said Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of CDF. “Our nation can ill afford to continuously lose talented students and our future leaders because we failed to act.”

While highlighting data from a statistical profile of this key population distributed at the event, Nettles told attendees, “Over the course of his or her lifetime, a single high school dropout costs the nation approximately $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. And while the national unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent in August 2012, joblessness among those without a high school degree measured 12 percent.”

The symposium highlighted effective practices schools and communities should focus on to ensure the success of Black males in high school:

• Providing rigorous high-quality curriculum and instruction for college and career readiness
• Establishing safe, positive, supportive and welcoming school environments
• Creating opportunities for youth to build skills and capital for college and career success outside of the classroom

(Photo: Students at Urban Prep in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Urban Prep.)

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