January 25, 2013
“That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
The Emancipation Proclamation, 1862
By Harrison Blackmond, DFER Michigan State Director
Over 150 years ago, with the stroke of his pen, President Abraham Lincoln legally liberated millions of African slaves from involuntary servitude. For over a century, millions of slaves in the US had been subjected to terror, degradation and all manner of brutality. Most slave owners understood that to maintain control over their human property, they needed to effectively treat them as less than human. They were deprived of their history and more importantly, of the means to learn and educate themselves through the written word.
One hundred and fifty years later we continue to work to correct this historical wrong and undo what seems to be a prevailing belief among some, including African Americans, that certain African American children and their families are responsible for their inability to learn and achieve at levels comparable to their cohorts in more affluent communities. The only solution to the problem of educating these children, they say, is to address the underlying causes of poverty, crime, familial dysfunction and addiction.
This belief has widespread implications. First, it lets educators and policy makers off the hook. The best they can do is to teach children who happen to be born into these circumstances to be satisfied with their lot and not cause trouble for those who have succeeded. Second, it sends a message to these children and families that, no matter how hard they try their circumstances have doomed them to be second-class educational and economic citizens.
As Michigan considers what to do with what has been previously called its “persistently lowest achieving schools” (now called Priority Schools), it has to face the question of whether it’s possible, given social and economic circumstances, to educate children in these schools at high levels. Priority Schools are Michigan public schools identified in the bottom 5% of the statewide Top to Bottom ranking and any high school with a graduation rate of less than 60% for three consecutive years. In 2011 Michigan had 146 such schools as well as 358 Focus Schools, which are the 10% of schools that have wide achievement gaps between various student populations.
In 2009, Michigan enacted legislation (HB 4787) that would identify the lowest achieving 5% of schools and place them under the supervision of a state school reform/redesign officer. The legislation also created a “single State School Reform/Redesign School District.” The district was made up of all the persistently lowest achieving schools whose redesign plans had been disapproved or whose plans were not achieving satisfactory results. (HB 4787 was sponsored by Democrat Tim Melton and passed by a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives.)
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