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MN Achievement Gap Among the Worst

January 17, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS - As Americans celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., African-American leaders locally and nationally are calling for action to help the nation's black children.

Two newly released reports commissioned by the Children's Defense Fund chronicle a growing crisis in the black community, including family disintegration, child poverty, low high school graduation rates, high unemployment and a disproportionate number of black males in prison.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, says the cradle-to-prison pipeline must be shut down and replaced with an expressway to college and work.

"We can't afford to have 40 percent of black children drop out of school. That is going to cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. The best investment we can make in a time of economic downturn is in children, in strong families and preventing problems."

Minnesota ranks near the top nationally for overall academic achievement, but also has one of America's widest gaps in terms of racial achievement. This must be addressed, African-American leaders say, because education is the equalizing factor that leads to better job prospects and stable families.

Sondra Samuels, chief executive officer of the Northside Achievement Zone, says it's time to have a frank discussion about how black children are truly faring in Minnesota schools, especially in urban areas. Addressing the achievement gap doesn't start in kindergarten, she says, but before children are born.

"So, we're talking about working with families and kids from the time the baby is in the womb all the way to work. From womb to work, and from cradle to career. And reweaving the fabric of families, but also of community."

She adds that community and economic development must also be addressed so that jobs are available for an educated workforce.

Andrew Sum of Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies says a decade of weakening labor-market conditions has hit young workers and families hardest, particularly in the African-American community. About one-fourth of all children and 40 percent of black children in young families are being raised in poverty, he says.

"We're placing our next generation at great risk by putting so many of our children and young families in living conditions where the parents cannot afford to invest as much in their educational, social, health and nutritional well being. We ought to be deeply concerned about the failure of America's labor markets for young adults over this past decade."

Samuels says the reports and call to action are not just about African-American children.

"We know that all children in America are not faring as good as they could, and we are not competitive globally. But we believe that when we do right by the most vulnerable in our society, that when the water rises, all the ships rise. And that this is about all children as well."

The Center for Labor Market study is available online at bit.ly/dHSix7. The State of Black Children and Families report is at bit.ly/hGI1mD. The achievement-gap data can be seen at bit.ly/GQIfK.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN