America has served as a beacon of hope and a place of refuge and success for many. However, during the course of American history certain groups of individuals have had to endure the loss of land, slavery, lynchings, deprivation, of civil rights, unequal access to education and a lack of social and economic opportunity to achieve parity. In short, America has been and remains a paradox. Yet, as an African-American, I remain positive about the future possibilities that exist for America. I believe in the mental toughness and “can do” attitude of the American people. I also believe that as time has passed, so have many of the racist attitudes and deeds which have hindered the ultimate growth and success of such a blessed nation. America has so far fallen short of the greatness of which it is capable.
As Americans we currently stand at a major crossroads – faced with a multitude of situations that require thoughtful decisions and well-conceived policies. We must fix our problems with banking and economics, public and private housing, fuel and infrastructure, unemployment, war, an environmentally damaging oil spill, and most importantly the education of our children.
I graduated as a business major from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. I do not profess to be an expert of any sort. However, I am an experienced entrepreneur and an international businessman having held senior management positions for both American and British, international, corporations. My business experience has afforded me the good fortune of living abroad for approximately 20 years while traveling to many different parts of the world. Through my work, I have had personal meetings with Presidents of foreign countries, top military brass, and successful business people. I have worked with foreign middle and high school students and developed long lasting international, friendships. My experience has allowed me to form many opinions.
For example, America is well known for having a host of “experts,” many of whom can identify and dissect a problem to its core. Unfortunately, with respect to the field of education, our experts have become “specialists” at defining situations, but they have shown a lack of ability to provide viable, long-lasting, quantifiable solutions to our educational problems. On May 12, 2009 in Washington, D.C., expert witnesses told the House Education and Labor Committee that, “The U.S. high school dropout crisis poses one of the greatest threats to the nation’s economic growth and competitiveness and must be addressed.” The witnesses urged Congress to explore legislative solutions as quickly as possible. “Legislative solutions”!?? What on earth will “legislative solutions” do to reduce the high school dropout crisis? Our experts are good at identifying problems but poor at providing solutions.
Nationwide in 2009, 7,000 students dropped out every day, and only about 70 percent of students graduated from high school with a regular high school diploma. Two thousand high schools in the U.S. produced more than half of all dropouts, and research showed that poor and minority children attend these so-called “dropout factories.” Studies also highlighted the financial impact of the nation’s dropout rates. A report by the McKinsey Corporation showed that if minority student performance had reached that of white students by 1998, the GDP in 2009 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher – or approximately 2 to 4 percent of GDP. The report also said the achievement gaps in this country are the same as having “a permanent national recession.” Cutting the dropout rate in half would yield $45 billion annually in new federal tax revenues or cost savings, according to a report by Columbia University’s Center for Cost-Benefit Studies of Education at Teachers College. (http://edlabor.house.gov/newsroom/2009/05/high-school-dropout-crisis-thr.shtml)
Now more than one year later we are still discussing the problem of high school dropout rates with no solution in sight. The experts also change their opinions like they change clothes. One report will state the need to focus on “middle school” students if we want to affect the dropout rates and change negative student behavior. Conversely, another reports the need to focus on “pre-school” students if we want to improve our school results.
When I worked with “at risk” youth and gang members including adults, I visited our youth and adult prison inmates and endeavored to help them straighten out their lives. It is obviously not the “pre-school” students dropping-out of school, nor do they make-up the predominant number of gang members. In fact, our pre-school students do require proper nurturing and guidance, but they are not the key to our massive societal youth problems. Our predominant youth problems begin with “at risk” students in 5th grade and above, both male and female. These students, unlike most pre-school students, have the mental capacity, physical capability, and opportunities to make bad choices with potentially devastating consequences. Without proper guidance as they mature their propensity for mixing with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble grows exponentially. Fifth grade through high school are the areas where we should allocate our tax dollars, grants, donations and education resources in support of solving critical youth-related problems. In my opinion, most of those problems result from a lack of understanding. The majority of our youth and many of their parents do not have a full understanding of the fabric of our society – its structures, ground rules and dynamics. They lack direction and feel left out, like a ship without a rudder. A formal education is a launching pad for success, but we must first educate our youth about our country, its benefits, the pitfalls and the opportunities that exist for those who pursue higher education, skills, and a better life. The majority of our dropouts leave school feeling helpless -- in a society that promotes professional sports more than it does any other form of excellence. Many of our children delude themselves in seeing the fame and fortune of a few popular music and film stars as the epitome of success. These are role models very few will actually be able to emulate. A lack of self knowledge and a sense of not belonging sit at the core of our youth problems, which extend into our schools and ultimately translate into high dropout rates and poor test scores. It’s a miracle that more of our students do not drop out.
The crises we’re seeing in our nation are real, and we must work together if they are to be solved. There is a solution for every problem. Perhaps as a next step, our education experts should focus their efforts on solutions which incorporate all the stakeholders; including parents, school districts, juvenile court judges, social workers, non-profit organizations, faith-based and youth groups, local businesses, major corporations, foundations, UPI Education and ordinary people who are committed to achieving success within their communities and for the nation as a whole. Americans cannot expect government legislation alone to solve our educational woes, anymore than they can expect our kids to solve such problems without our concerted efforts -- all of us pushing the same plan at the same time. So long as we continue to dilute our resources as we move in 100 different directions with 200 different plans, we will never get a handle on our many problems, and great solutions will fall by the wayside for lack of funding. Worse yet, another year will go by while we continue to talk about the problem of high school dropout rates with no solution in sight, and a lot more of our children will find themselves left behind – with crime and no hope as their only partners.
Mr. Frank Crump is a successful international businessman. He is also the Founder and President of UPI Education (www.upieducation.org). Mr. Crump can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org