Bob Herbert posted a must read column today on the ” tragic crisis of enormous magnitude facing black boys and men in America.”  Herbert points to “Parental neglect, racial discrimination and an orgy of self-destructive behavior have left an extraordinary portion of the black male population in an ever-deepening pit of social and economic degradation.”

Less than half of black males graduate on time from high school and a third will end up in jail.  Urban jobless rates remain high and “There are many areas where virtually no one has a legitimate job.”

Herbert is discouraged about political and civil society solutions and thinks it will take African American leadership to address this crisis:

“There is very little sentiment in the wider population for tackling the extensive problems faced by poor and poorly educated black Americans. What is needed is a dramatic mobilization of the black community to demand justice on a wide front — think employment, education and the criminal justice system — while establishing a new set of norms, higher standards, for struggling blacks to live by.

Bob is certainly correct that this is a complicated and multifaceted problem.  We both agree that “Education in the broadest sense is the key to stopping this socioeconomic slide that is taking such a horrific toll in the black community.”  And while we don’t know how to fix poverty, we do know how to open good new schools.

I was an optimistic supporter of the political consensus embodied in No Child Left Behind and believed it would create the political backbone to address chronic failure concentrated in American urban centers.  However, we’ve seen little backbone except from the Status Quo over the last decade.  A few cities under mayoral control have shown sustained progress and charter networks have posted promising results.   The carrot of RttT appears to have produced as much policy progress as the stick of NCLB.

With some combination of carrots and sticks, we need to close and replace about 5000 schools in the next few years.  It won’t solve all the problems that Herbert outlines, but it’s the best intervention we’ve identified.  That’s why the City Prep team is working with nonprofits and districts to create great high schools in Mid-Atlantic urban centers.

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