The Philadelphia Enquirer| http://bit.ly/9003Rs
Mon, Sep. 13, 2010 -- A new study that examined the alarming graduation gap for black and Latino males in Philadelphia offers a starting point to address a growing national crisis.
A task force spent 10 months looking at the dropout problem in the city. It found that only 45 percent of black males graduate in four years, according to 2009 statistics.
Latino males fare even worse, with only 43 percent getting a high school diploma.
Overall, only 56 percent of district students graduate on time in Philadelphia public schools. That means that nearly half flunk out.
Philadelphia is not alone in the racial divide. A study released last month by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that the graduation rate for black males nationally was only 47 percent, compared with 78 percent for their white counterparts.
In hearing the statistics, Mayor Nutter aptly called the dropout crisis one of the most serious issues facing Philadelphia and the 167,000-student district.
The task force established by School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and commissioner Johnny Irizarry looked beyond sounding another alarm by releasing the troubling statistics. In the most compelling finding, former students said they felt pressured by the district to leave before graduation. Still others complained that their requests for help were ignored.
The panel not only cited entrenched practices that may contribute to the abysmal failure rate, but also recommendations to create an environment for success. They include changing the status quo and removing barriers that inhibit learning.
Among the recommendations that merit consideration: single-sex classes, music and arts programs to whet students' interests, mentors, and internships.
Some recommendations may need further study or require more funding. Others can be implemented immediately - such as including dropout rates for black and Latino males in the district's annual School Report Card and setting up an advisory board to monitor progress.
The suggestions provide a blueprint for Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who has promised to do more to help the scores of minority students being left behind.
Ackerman should also look to successful models in other urban districts. Like Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, the city's only public all-male high school, which made headlines last spring when its entire first senior class was accepted to four-year colleges.
Replicating such best practices makes a lot of sense.