Before Covid, Urban Schools Were Already In Trouble

When we stop believing in a future where race does not matter, we stop aspiring to be fully human.

Before Covid, Urban Schools Were Already In Trouble

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Public education has certainly been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. While distance learning works for many, the majority of students who struggled with remote learning were poor minorities. Now that vaccines are available, the hope is that our schools, at least, can return to normal. 

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. What do we do to help all of the poor minority students that have fallen even further behind? Most urban school districts were facing significant challenges before Covid arrived. In most large cities, only 1 in 4 students (or less) tested to grade-level proficiency in math and reading before the pandemic. What can a district do to reverse the impact of Covid while trying to increase math and reading proficiency across the board? The main factor working against school districts, in general, is time. The school year is still 180 days long, so where do our schools find the extra time.

American students are at a disadvantage when it comes to education. The United States has the shortest school year of any developed nation. When we look at the top-performing countries with the lowest high school dropout rates, all have year-round schooling. Take Japan as an example. The Japanese have year-round schooling. Their high school dropout rate is at 1.4%. Year-round schooling offers our kids more time to learn the same material. The long summer breaks enjoyed by American students come at a high cost: lower grade-level proficiency and higher dropout rates. Most modern education standards such as Common Core are derived, in part, from international learning standards; standards that American students have less time to meet.

Data shows that year-long learning is proven to increase grade-level proficiency and reduce high school dropout rates to single digits. But, with all the funding challenges in public education and resistance from school unions, it is not likely that American public schools will adopt universal year-round learning anytime soon. Paul Lott, the President & Founder of the National Society for the Advancement of Black Americans (NSABA) thinks a private option is viable. The NSABA will be introducing its Summer Essentials Academy (SEA) program in four cities this summer. SEA is a 10-week full-day learning program targeted to help students increase core proficiency in math and reading during school summer vacation.  

According to several national studies, the #1 reason students drop out of high school is that they are too far behind to catch up. Early intervention is critical, but teachers in low proficiency schools are already overwhelmed. Most of these kids will never get the kind of help they need early enough to prevent dropout. Even if a student stays in school, most students who test below grade-level in math and reading still graduate. More than 60 percent of twelfth-grade students scored below the proficient level in reading achievement, and 27 percent scored below the basic level in reading. This means that a staggering number of graduating seniors do not even have partial mastery of the appropriate grade-level knowledge and skills. For example, Baltimore Public Schools have a 70.3% graduation rate, but only a 17% proficiency in math and reading. Closing that gap is critical to the long-term success of these students.

Summer Essentials Academy uses summer learning to reinforce core math and reading proficiency. Summer Essentials support public education by using the summer months give underperforming students targeted help in the skills they will need for long-term academic and life success.

As funding allows, the NSABA will expand its summer program to as many cities as possible. The goal is to make year-round schooling the standard across the country. For the summer of 2021, NSABA will kick-off programs in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The program will expand to other states next year.

The NSABA is an IRS 501(c)3 charity. We focus on issues of poverty and education in communities with minority poverty clusters.

Let us hear from you.

    Contact: Paul K. Lott, Sr.,

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