PCS black graduation rate: Underlying issues

Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.

BY GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, PH.D., Contributor

The Pinellas County School superintendent and the school board member representing south St. Pete took a victory lap regarding published reports of a better than 80 percent increase in the black high school graduation rate for school the year 2018-19, compared to the school year 2014-15.  The salient question is whether or not celebration is warranted, given the improvement is a function of students receiving concordant scores.

Concordance is a state-approved strategy to improve graduation rates by among other things, allowing otherwise ineligible students to qualify for graduation by attaining a qualifying score of 16 or better on the ACT, or a minimum of 430, on the SAT.

Some argue graduating students are self-actualized, and parents/guardians’ dreams are fulfilled through concordance.  While concordance allows the district to fulfill requirements of federal and state lawsuits partially, it delays the inevitable: frustrations resulting from an inability to compete in the work world or attend college. The aforementioned minimum ACT and SAT scores are not acceptable for admission to most colleges and universities.

Proficiency is an underlying issue in the graduation debate. It is assumed by most to be the ultimate outcome of a process designed to certify its attainment by awarding a high school diploma.

However, the very existence of concordance is antithetical to this proposition.  Some may recall when school districts issued Certificates of Attendance/Completion to students unqualified to receive standard high school diplomas (W06) for failure to meet proficiency requirements.

These certificates highlighted school failure in an alarming way and created major political problems for school boards, school superintendents and the State of Florida. One positive attribute of the certificate process was its honesty.

Parents or students weren’t under any delusions regarding the impact of certificates on the graduate’s future.  Conversely, concordance is a dishonest substitute. Its deleterious effects are not always immediately apparent.

Both lawsuits (NAACP and COQEB) against the Pinellas School District address proficiency in their demands to close the achievement gap between black and white students.

Plaintiffs may not immediately understand how a standard concordance diploma may inhibit one’s ability to fully participate in society. Additionally, other societal institutions are adversely impacted when business and industry are unable to recruit and hire skilled employees, and the criminal justice system flourishes.

The alternative to concordance, true achievement, is regarded by most as the primary responsibility of schools. However, we all have a role to play.  The school board member representing south St. Pete, along with the superintendent, must fully disclose the pitfalls of concordance.

A student’s journey towards improficiency begins early in the school experience.  The district acknowledges that, for the most part, black children enter the school system ready to learn. 

But, somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, the achievement gap emerges, and African-American boys are more adversely impacted than black girls. Serious attempts must be made to identify the cause(s), and effective strategies must be implemented.

The awarding of concordance diplomas is a political response to the lack of educational proficiency and achievement by far too many children of color. Concordance exacerbates rather than resolve the problem.

Real solutions require all of us — parents, schools, communities — to do more. We must stop using the lack of parental participation as an excuse to fail.

Schools must own the fact they failed generations of students who are now parents and are, for the most part, incapable of fulfilling the ubiquitous demand for parental involvement. Schools must also work to empower parents to fully participate in their children’s education; create welcoming, supportive school environments and respect all parents and their perspectives.

Yes, it is true. The graduation rate for black students in Pinellas County has steadily increased over the last five years due to concordance. It makes for great conversation and political boasting.

However, given the limitations and obstacles to success imposed by concordance, namely, its failure to certify proficiency in the 3Rs, celebration is not in order. Rather, some degree of remorse is warranted, and a renewed commitment to the cause, Black student achievement, is required.

Concordance diplomas, like automobiles and major appliances, need a lemon law. Our future is in peril if we fail to educate all of our children. We will not be able to compete in the world of economic and technical prosperity absent a sound educational foundation.

As George Washington Carver reminds us: “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.

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