From the Oakland Tribune:
OAKLAND — In California, by a 36 to 27 percent ratio, young African-American men without a high school diploma or its equivalent are more likely to be found languishing in prison than working a regular job. Young Latino men are roughly 40 percent more likely than white men to wind up serving time in an adult prison. And African-American kindergartners are more than three times as likely as their white playmates to believe they lack the ability to succeed in school.
These are just some of the disturbing findings that will be brought to light in a report Wednesday, when the California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color presents its working action plan at its sixth and final hearing in Sacramento.
The report is part of a sweeping effort, the first of its kind in California, to accurately assess the myriad ways in which young men of color across the state are falling behind when it comes to success in school, access to health care, employment and a host of other critical public health, safety and criminal justice issues. The report also lays out a breathtaking array of policy suggestions, legislative proposals and ideas for ways policymakers can improve the health outcomes of the state’s most vulnerable and at-risk individuals.
“Addressing the issue of the needs of boys and men of color should be the concern of every Californian,” said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, the chairman of the Select Committee and the principle force behind the initiative. “In the long run, we are morally right to be concerned, but also economics demand that we find solutions.”
Over the course of the last year, the committee held public meetings in Oakland, Los Angeles, Fresno and Coachella to determine the true breadth of the problems most affecting communities of color, and how best to solve them. In many cases, the youth most affected came forward with complaints and suggestions of their own about how best to move forward with legislative and systemic changes.
A major area of concern focuses on California’s public school systems, which come in for heavy criticism in the report. Citing statistics that show African-American and Latino children are at much greater risk of being victimized by poverty, abuse and toxic levels of stress, the report disparages California’s unwillingness to make the school system responsive to the needs of children.
“From the very outset, our schools lack the human and institutional capacity to respond effectively to the needs of these youth,” the reports’ authors write.
The result is a chronic achievement gap that grows with time and becomes particularly acute in high school, by which time many African-Americans and Latinos are often too far behind to catch up. In 2007, only 55 percent of African-American boys and 54 percent of Latino boys graduated from California schools.
A big part of the problem, many experts say, is the raft of punitive measures already in place at schools. In some cases, students have been penalized with suspension and expulsion for being late to class or because of behavioral issues that advocates say have been mishandled. “After Columbine, there were a lot of zero tolerance policies placed in schools,” said Barbara Osborn, Communications Director for the Liberty Health Foundation, part of the Boys and Men of Color Alliance in Los Angeles. “One of the byproducts is that these policies have effectively discouraged school attendance in Los Angeles.”
Osborn said L.A. schools and city police officers issued upward of 50,000 truancy tickets at $175 a pop over the last five years before the policy was modified six months ago. “Those policies, while they were well-intended, only reinforced the school to prison pipeline,” Osborn said.
Swanson said one of his main objectives over the last 12 months was to craft legislation to coincide with the committee’s findings. The result, he added, is a basket of roughly 20 odd bills currently pending in both houses of the state Congress. The majority of the bills deal specifically with school-related truancy, behavioral or disciplinary regulations that the committee is hoping to overhaul. AB 1729, for instance, would give superintendents and principals greater discretion in determining what kinds of punitive measures are best suited to individual cases. AB 2242 would provide for expulsion to take place on school grounds, giving teachers access to students for rehabilitative classes in an effort to keep kids within the safe orbit of school.
But the school system isn’t the only bureaucracy that needs retooling, according to the report. California’s juvenile justice system, which is currently undergoing an arduous and time-consuming “realignment” to put it more in line with national standards, also merits a closer look. So, too, does the health care system and the multitude of youth development, tutoring and mentorship programs that exist throughout the state.
“What we need is a coordinating body that looks at programs across institutions,” said Celsa Snead, Executive Director of The Mentoring Program, a youth development initiative that works across the state. “If you’ve got the same child in foster care, probation, and a school, those three systems might have wardship over the same child but they are not sharing information effectively.”
Among the many ambitious goals the committee has set itself, Snead believes this may be one of the most important.