Monday, November 22, 2010

Give the Gift of Competitiveness through Education: Essential2Life Education Culture Scholars Project

As you may have heard, I am working with Atlanta Tutors and Essential2Life Urban Youth Solutions to provide inner-city students with quality one-on-one SAT prep and foreign language tutoring. Select students--all of whom are juniors at Douglass High School in Atlanta--have been hand-picked to receive supplemental education so as to enhance their student profiles and competitiveness in the college application process.

The reality is that these students need one-on-one tutoring to score in a competitive ran
ge when they take the SAT next year. High quality tutoring is expensive, but often less expensive than SAT prep courses. Atlanta Tutors, a local tutor
ing service that is known for superior quality in teaching and raising scores, has been generous enough to offer their services at a discount for these select Douglass students. Today I am challenging each of my family members and friends to buy at least one hour of SAT or foreign language tutorials for these high school students. Tutorials with some of the most qualified, experienced, and effective tutors in Atlanta are $50/hour. The goal for each student is to have ten weeks of classes, two hours per week. That's $1000 for 20 hours, but compare that with $2599 for the same amount of time with Kaplan or $2400 with Princeton Review. If you are going to give this holiday season, please give to the effort to not only help close the achievement gap by producing competitive college applicants, but to also develop a class of nationally competitive juniors among Atlanta's own.

How you can help
You can help these students improve their chances of getting into college with the purchase of an hour or more of tutoring on the Atlanta Tutors website. Please put "Eseential2Life" in the student name field so that the credit will be applied to this project. You can also send a check to
Atlanta Tutors - P.O. Box 450442 Atlanta, GA 31145-9998 - 678.412.5457. Per request of the donor, student progress reports will be provided to show how together, we can ensure that our students achieve.

Also, if you have any new or used SAT books or foreign language (Spanish or French) learning materials, please notify me at

The organization seeks to achieve its vision by continually and responsibly stewarding their mission "to create life-change for urban youth through mentoring and educational/career opportunity programs."
Essential2Life works directly with families in the public housing communities of Atlanta-a city that comprises a disproportionate 43% of the region's poor. Since its inception, E2L has created mentoring and educational opportunities for over 10,000 youth. It is E2L's goal to help at-risk youth "be more".
Through "15" a leadership program, students are offered a 3 year opportunity to be taught that leadership skills, so they can be a positive voice for their peers and pursue a life of purpose and distinction.

Stay tuned for this project's progress!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We have the right to remain behind: The implication for blaming culture, not money, for the racial achievement gap

Yesterday's NYT's article "Proficiency of Black Students is Found to be Far Lower Than Expected" highlighted a very important fact concerning the racial achievement gap: Money does not matter as much as we have always figured (Although it still matters a great deal). While there are real equity, noncultural issues such as school choice, the article pointed to parental practice and hinted at general culture as explanations for the 26 percentage points difference between reading proficiency rates of Black and White fourth-grade males. Reading this article and its reference to the cultural variable, while causing great alarm, inspires hope that people will begin to see the academic achievement gap not just as a money, political, or school issue, but also as an issue of culture. It shows that if we acknowledge a cultural shortcoming as a real factor alongside other factors like monies for school choice, we actually stand a chance of closing the achievement gap.

So with this "novel" idea, what can the government really do that it already has not? Policy makers are befuddled because culture--a questionable frontier for the realm of education policy-- is at the heart of the problem and the solution. Not only does pointing the finger at culture sound a lot like putting the blame on those most adversely affected, it is much easier to say to the American people that it is only a matter of streaming money into districts, schools and households than it is to point to cultural issues as a key variable. The former has no immediate promising soundbite solution to hold people off for a while before things fall back to a subpar equilibrium. In short, examining the cultural factor is often viewed as a politically incorrect move. How much can Washington, State, or City policy change our culture--our collective paradigm of education, the way we relate to each other concerning academic achievement, the way we spend our household disposable income, among other choices of prioritization? Furthermore, it is often the extent to which a policy is able to hold folks accountable that determines the degree of effectiveness. If there is an education-culture policy, what teeth will it have to keep it from being mere suggestion and propaganda of a loud yet ineffective public service campaign? How can education policy effectively confront various subcultures that are at odds with academic achievement?

A professor once said to me, "You can't make people change their culture with policies." She was pretty sure that policy and culture in that context were oil and water because of the legal implications and what it would look like to most people. Also, the American people are quick to attempt to defang that which denies us the ability to determine who we are or how we prioritize and allocate resources. Look at the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the formation of the Tea Party.

The thing is, I don't believe any of us truly want to be what we are becoming. Ostensibly it seems un-American for the government to become too involved in the private affairs of a household. But what if those private affairs work to the detriment of America as a whole? Is that not un-American? Is it still pro-American when we are self-determined to be slackers lagging behind in school, on the job, and in the world economy? While running the risk of sounding like I support authoritarianism in America, the goal is to point out that if we want to close the academic achievement gap we must pay close attention to those cultural variables that take effect behind closed doors. Whether or not there is a truly viable way for the government to do that remains to be seen. As this point we, individual community members, must take action to ensure that we put the necessary pressure on ourselves and others in our community to close this gap. We must assume our individual and collective responsibilities.

What is the solution?

Perhaps my professor was correct in suggesting that policies and culture just don't mix. Perhaps we must go through the back door so that, when achievement gap money is available we can maximize the efficiency of its use. While it is true that the problem of racial academic achievement disparity is quite complex, people fail to realize that the solution begins with one simple decision. Even though there are various factors contributing to the academic achievement gap, including SES, we--all Americans, but especially minorities who are most adversely affected by the academic achievement gap--must have zero tolerance for failure. Zero. We must throw fits, refocus, and show not only others, but ourselves, that it's all or nothing. Once we get that in our minds, in the minds of our next door neighbors, in the minds of students in failing schools and also failing homes, the academic achievement gap stands a greater chance of being closed. In short, we must have an American education cultural revolution of sorts.

If you are in the Atlanta area and have 2 hours of free time per week, please sign up to volunteer for the first Atlanta Neighborhood Math Competition. Email