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Local programs address black boys’ high drop-out rates

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 6/7/2013, noon

Jonathan Drake finished Carver High School on May 25 with a high “B” average because he says he was focused on graduating since his junior year. He had the promise of a scholarship awaiting him at Morehouse College if he earned his diploma on time.

“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I applied myself,” said Drake, 18, of Atlanta. “I saw the bigger picture.” 

Drake is an exception to a statistic that has become an academic epidemic in Georgia. Young black males across the state are among the least likely to graduate on time if at all. 

According to national statistics released by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, slightly less than half of black males in Georgia schools receive their diplomas in four years compared to 65 percent of white teens. 

The state Department of Education reports only a slightly better picture.

In 2011, the state’s last in-depth look at the demographics of graduation, six in ten black males who entered high school received their diplomas compared to eight in ten white students.

The reasons for the graduation gap are many. 

Some experts say the graduation gap begins as an achievement gap when some children enter elementary school better equipped to learn than others. 

Some say outside influences such as peer pressure and family circumstance have caused the graduation gap.

Others suspect the data itself is flawed.

The state graduation rate is calculated using the number of freshman students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers.

Some educators argue that the adjustments don’t accurately reflect what’s happening in urban schools as students relocate, graduate from alternative schools or get GEDs.

“Just because you leave a school doesn’t mean you are dropping out,” said Bryant Marks, an associate professor at Morehouse who serves as executive director of The Morehouse Research Institute, which studies the psychology of black students “When you have masses of black folks and a significant population of low income students you tend to have a lot of transfers in and out.” 

Marks points to U.S. Census records that report that nearly 8 in 10 black males between the ages of 16 to 24 have a diploma or a high school equivalency degree, among other studies that show that black males are continuing schooling even if they can’t finish in four years.

The state graduation rate for all students, which was released last month, rose more than two percentage points over the previous year – from 67.4 percent in 2011 to 69.7 percent in 2012.

The state DOE hasn’t examined how black males statewide fared.

And some metro Atlanta school districts aren’t waiting for the data to be compiled and published before they address the issue. They are partnering with colleges and clergy to improve the odds of black males getting their diplomas.

During the 2012-13 school year, Gwinnett County Schools held six training sessions for its Community-Based Mentoring program that pairs ministers, community and business leaders with students at risk of dropping out of high school before graduation.