Closing the gap

January 01, 2007

Astatewide task force has come up with a number of sensible recommendations to help make more young, black males achieve educational and, ultimately, social success. But considering that the work of a similar task force failed to gain traction a decade ago, it's clear that what will be needed to make these recommendations real is more political will, financial resources and - perhaps most important - a greater sense of urgency.

Many young, black males in Maryland are doing fine, but too many others are not. And although some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, have done well in closing the school-achievement gap, the state as a whole has a long way to go. In 2003, the high school graduation rate for white males was 76 percent, compared with 53 percent for black males. For every four black men in college, three others are incarcerated. Given the increasing demand for more college-educated and skilled workers, it's in the state's interest to change these trends and develop as much homegrown talent as possible.

The task force, consisting of educational, union and business officials as well as community leaders and students, examined what it will take to make more young, black males succeed in school.

Some of their 18 key recommendations are tried and true, such as providing more high-quality early education; more experienced teachers, particularly more black male teachers; more single-sex classes; fewer referrals of black male students to special education; and more community supports such as mentoring.

But they also included a few out-of-the-box proposals, such as providing an in-school advocate to help struggling male students deal with emotional as well as academic obstacles, or pairing black youngsters with nonviolent ex-offenders who could be credible anti-crime advocates.

Surely Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, who has seen some of the best and worst consequences faced by young, black males, will bring a greater sense of urgency to these issues. Most of the task force recommendations don't yet include projected costs. That could be both a failing and a smart tactical strategy.

Rather than be daunted by what it will cost to make changes, the task force is counting on moral suasion to convince all Marylanders of the costs of not addressing the plight of a significant population in their midst.

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