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The National Urban League’s annual State of Black America reports that the 2005 Equality Index is stuck at 0.73 – meaning that Blacks, by a variety of statistical measurements, are less than three-quarters of the way toward equality with whites. The index is “marginally unchanged” since 2004, but the April report warns that “to stand still in today’s world is to fall further behind.”

In fact, the Urban League’s equality index is too optimistic, because it does not – cannot – measure the swirling political/institutional forces that are combining to bring yet more winds of destruction to Black America. The barometer is falling a lot faster than we thought – while the national weather people have been systematically lying to us.

Only half of African American youth (50.2%) graduate with a diploma from high school – 42.8% of males and 56.2% of females, according to an Urban Institute study, Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth are being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis. The report, released in February in collaboration with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and other organizations, reveals a national education reality far bleaker than the rosy upper middle class landscape projected for decades by corporate media. Although Black dropout rates are certainly a precursor of social disaster, only 76.8% of Asian/Pacific Islanders, the highest graduating ethnic category, pick up their diplomas at the end of the 12th grade. Whites are roughly 2 points behind.

Thus, the national educational self-image, in which only marginalized groups drop out of high school, and where college is the norm, is false for all of America.

National Graduation Rates By Race and Gender
By Race/Ethnicity Nation Female Male

American Indian/AK Nat 51.1 51.4† 47.0†
Asian/Pacific Islander 76.8 80.0† 72.6†
Hispanic 53.2 58.5 48
Black 50.2 56.2 42.8
White 74.9 77 70.8

All Students 68 72 64.1

Nationally, only 32 percent of Special Education students, disproportionately Black and brown, graduate.

Armies of invisible dropouts

The Urban Institute’s data are widely at variance with statistics on which American educational and, to some degree, social and economic policies are based. The report asserts its methodology is a “more accurate” way to “provide estimates of high school graduation rates, distinguished at the state and district level, and disaggregated by race” than the numbers developed by the Current Population Survey and the Center for Educational Statistics, which “relies heavily on underestimated dropout data.”

It appears the underestimates of dropout rates are systematic and nationwide – the result of purposeful ignorance: see no dropout, report no dropout. “For example,” said the study, “schools often report students who never receive degrees as successfully transferring to some other school. In Texas, any student that cannot be accounted for is removed from the calculation as if they never existed. Sometimes students who are incarcerated or have left school but are over the mandatory attendance age in their high schools are not counted as dropouts, though they never graduate.”

The oficial graduation rates for Black youth, the least likely to finish high school, are also the most highly inflated. “Incredibly, some states report a 5% dropout rate for African Americans, when, in reality, only half of its young adult African Americans are graduating with diplomas. For example, very low dropout rates for grades 9-12 are reported for Blacks in Florida (3.9%), Texas (2.6%), and Missouri (5.4%), but as this report reveals, Blacks in these states are graduating in the 50% range or lower.”

In a society in which the rich and racist rule, every reputed reform ultimately works to the detriment of the oppressed – for example, "urban renewal" becomes "Black removal." So it is with No Child Left Behind, whose implementation may actually accelerate a process that encourages young Blacks to leave school. “The overwhelming focus of many states and school districts aiming to avoid test-driven accountability sanctions has led to increased reports across the nation of schools that ‘push out’ low achieving students…in order to help raise their overall test scores.”

Schools are rewarded for making dropouts the invisible young men and women of society. Administrators win promotions, most notably, former Bush Secretary of Education Rod Paige, whose vaunted “Houston miracle” while superintendent of that city’s schools was revealed as a huge scam committed largely at the expense of youngsters pushed out of school, unrecorded. "It is all phony; it's just like Enron," said Rice University professor of education Linda McNeil, according to the November 8, 2003, Washington Post. described Houston schools under Paige as a “dropout factory.”

The next generation of Black America is being inexorably pulled – and methodically pushed – ever deeper into the non-person zone of society. But it is an assault at least as old as the onset of school desegregation efforts and the accompanying white flight, the period when urban public education became associated with Blacks and, therefore, socially devalued. As Jonathan Kozol pointed out in his 1991 classic, Savage Inequalities, schools base their budgets on the expectation of dropouts, and could not function if too many candidates remained in class. Educator Elena Rutherford reviewed and updated Kozol’s findings for , on October 3, 2002:

”When new classrooms and teacher hires are scheduled, no provision is made for that proportion of students whom everyone is certain will not return. Long range plans are based on extrapolations of high rates of failure. In this twisted sense, the problem of overcrowding represents an excess of success – while high dropout rates provide some breathing room.”

Freedom from citizens

So we see that dropouts are institutionally manufactured, not the inevitable product of some sickness in Black society. The Urban Institute report recommends each new student be provided “with a single lifetime school identification number that would follow him or her throughout his or her entire school career. Until this nation implements and carefully monitors such a system, we will never know exactly what happens to students.”

It’s a sound idea, but one that will never be accepted by the class that George Bush represents, who reject any social responsibility for life outcomes, even the outcomes of very young lives. Why get an accurate count of dropouts, when they – like everyone else, in the corporate vision – are on their own? A true accounting of the catastrophe might conjure up the words of President Lyndon Johnson to Howard University’s graduating class on July 4, 1965: “We seek not just freedom but opportunity – not just legal equity but human ability – not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

Equality as a result, even a decent education as a result, died as a national purpose amidst the flickering embers of affirmative action, nearly two decades ago. Today, affirmative action is in a persistent vegetative state – technically alive, but unable to impact the world around it. If results are not relevant, there is no point in getting a good count. No Child Left Behind, as administered by Bush, is a tool to fail and erase from the rolls not just individual youngsters, but whole school systems, so that the bells of total corporate freedom might ring.What has been lost to America – or never really found – is the general belief in a social contract. The human deficit is immeasurable.

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April 14 2005
Issue 134

is published every Thursday.

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