Another school year is about to begin in Fayette County and, if history is the judge, it will end with achievement gaps remaining about the same between white and black students as they are now.
Once again we will hem and haw about the reasons, try to dodge blame, and repeat the same mistakes next school year.
We blame teachers, parents, students, the educational system, society and racism, not necessarily in that order. And while we are pointing fingers, the gap continues to grow.
Black students have fallen behind their peers by as much as two grade levels. About a third of them drop out of school, and the rate is even higher for black males. The problem has gotten so great, it ought to have its own awareness ribbon.
In recent graduation rates released in Kentucky, Hispanics enjoyed a nine percent increase in the number of graduates. Apparently we have overcome language barriers to educate children, but not social and racial ones.
I don't have any children in the Fayette County Public Schools, but I am tired of the merry-go-round. And although there are loud laments and promises all around to do better, little has changed.
Are teachers and school administrators to blame? Yes. Are parents and students falling down on the job? Yes. Is the community failing to understand that what happens to the least of us affects us all? Yes.
Now that the blame has been spread around, we all need to pick up a piece of that mess and own it. Black kids are not inherently slow or dumb. If that were true, the Black Males Working Academy at First Baptist Bracktown wouldn't be having such great success. Nor would the school board have allowed the new Carter G. Woodson Academy at Crawford Middle School to springboard from that program. Something else is going on.
Poverty can definitely put a damper on success, but with the right encouragement from adults, poor kids can do quite well, thank you. (I was one of those.)
If poverty is not the real obstacle and there is no lack of inherent intelligence, then maybe it is environment. Maybe if someone helped students navigate out of that situation into a safer, more welcoming one, success might be more predictable.
Enter community help.
In July, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. The overall goal of the initiative is to find — through federal agencies and community partners — techniques that are working to reduce the achievement gap.
It's the first time I can recall that the federal government has noticed the elephant in the room.
Obama is creating an office within the U.S. Department of Education to find ways to provide black students with early learning programs and greater access to advanced classes and support services; to develop lauded African-American teachers and principals; to reduce dropout rates and increase college access; and increase access to adult education, literacy, and technical programs.
If even half of those goals are met, many of the environmental obstacles that black students face will be eliminated.
That leaves teachers, families and students.
"It has to be an intentional focus, not just developing plans or throwing words on the wall," Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said in a statement. "We are responsible for making it happen. If we don't believe every child can be successful, then they're not going to be successful. It's not up to the kids, it's up to us. If they're not getting it, we need to change what we're doing."
Part of that change will come in building relationships with students and families, he said.
"It is our responsibility to make an intentional effort to know our students and families, welcome them into our schools and work collaboratively with them to find the path to success."
That's sounds good, but it will only work if everyone buys in.
To get parents on board, pushing for higher achievement in academics as fervently as they cheer for excellence in sports, I offer the story of Aubrey Drake Graham, better known as Canadian rap superstar Drake.
Drake is spending this summer getting his GED, about nine years after he walked out of a history class and never returned. Getting that certificate is something his mother, a teacher, wanted him to do.
How much are we parents pushing our children to understand the importance of an education?
But we adults can only do so much. The rest is up to the students.
You students must have the love of learning, a curiosity and the will to be your best.
There will be a host of negative influences vying for your attention, including peer pressure. You will have to look past that and past teachers who may not like you to create your own vision of who you are. Everything in your line of sight will change over time.
For example, lyrics in Drake's current single, Crew Love, say, "I guess we'll never know what Harvard gets us / But seeing my family have it all / Took the place of that desire for diplomas on the wall."
That's not quite true anymore, is it?
And finally, there is my role in this mess. If I see you in the grocery store, at a game or at church, don't be surprised if I ask about Newton's laws of motion, or the Pythagorean theorem, or who wrote about a character named Puck.
I'm going to do my part to bring about change.