The challenges facing African-American boys in the public education system are astounding. 48-percent of Black males drop out of high school, and in many states, fewer than 50-percent even walk across the graduation stage. While the country seeks to reform our public schools through initiatives like President Obama’s Race to the Top, many young people–especially Black boys–are left behind.

Aside from being victims of generational poverty, many African-American boys are disproportionately placed in Special Education and/or expelled from school, making their access to education even more difficult.

Tomorrow night, PBS will premiere a documentary that takes a look at the educational crisis for young, Black men. In the expose “Too Important to Fail,” Tavis Smiley crisscrossed the country speaking to students and education experts to find out what’s really going on in schools.

In the documentary, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, an educational consultant, said the country’s reponse to the educational crisis facing Black boys would be handled much differently if the kids in question were white.

Dr. Kunjufu asserts:

“…if 53% was the dropout for white males, it would be unacceptable; if 41% of their children were being placed in special education, that would be a major crisis,” says Dr. Kunjufu. “If only 20% of their boys were proficient in reading in eighth grade, that would be a crisis. If only 2.5% of white males ever earned a college degree, that would be a major crisis in America.”

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

As a teacher in an urban public school, I agree with Dr. Kunjufu’s assessment. Although the overwhelming majority of educators do what we can, each year we are asked to do even more with fewer resources, less support, and overcrowded classrooms. I’ve personally witnessed the inequalities in the schools in my district. While many schools in middle class neighborhoods have laptops and pristine textbooks for each student, my school stuggles to prepare nearly 2000 teens for the 21st Century using outdated IBM computers and graffiti-riddled books. If the school looks rundown and abandoned by the higher ups, how can we expect the kids to care?

Our communities–and by extension our nation–will continue to decline if we cannot provide a quality education for our kids.

Tavis Smiley’s “Too Important to Fail” airs Tuesday night on PBS. Check your local listings.

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