The Community Must Give Permission to School Boards

School boards across the country have been running away from racial tracking of high school students. This tracking phenomenon was an abomination in the history of education in the United States. It is a dark racist part of America’s history. High schools systematically placed African-American students in lower level courses, including vocational education. This inappropriate course scheduling of children was done even though the high schools knew some of the African-American children were very bright and should have been placed in a college prep curriculum. The anger and distrust of the African-American community with the American school system was reasonable. This now ancient history of racism in America’s high schools, however, continues to impact our education system today.

This fear of being called racist keeps school boards from supporting career technical education. They are still afraid of the tracking label. This fear harms millions of children of every race, every school year. Unfortunately, this fear is based on ignorance. Racial tracking in high schools was identified and eliminated fifty years ago. The ignorance of school boards and school administrators of the history and impact of their policies today is intolerable. The harm from their ignorance plays out in a variety of ways. One is by implementing an inappropriate curriculum for all students. Some school boards require all high school students to take a college preparatory curriculum. This policy is absurd on the face of it. Half of all the kids of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are below average intelligence and cannot master college preparatory coursework. This policy is particularly absurd in that we know only about 30 percent of American students go on to graduate from college.

Does the school board care about the other 70 percent of the students? Don’t they think the other 70 percent deserves an appropriate education? Do they think about these kids all? They need to find out what happens to the 70 percent when they leave school. We know 30 percent of all high school students drop out. This amounts to about one million kids a year, every year. We know 70 percent of the 2.5 million people in prison are high school dropouts, and seventy percent of the 4.5 million people on probation and parole are also dropouts. Why don’t school boards connect their lack of provision of an appropriate high school education to the students who end up in jail? It has to be ignorance or fear. School boards do not require their school administrators to perform longitudinal studies to follow up on their students after they leave high school. If they did this research, they would get a rude education. That would take care of their ignorance.

Longitudinal research will show the extreme drop out level of students from college, particularly community college each year after leaving high school. The national average for college graduation after six years is thirty percent, but some schools are much higher and some are much lower. The lower group with no employable skills is particularly prey to criminal activities. The fear of tracking and of being called a racist will take courage to make saving kids more important than ignorant people calling names.

The inappropriate college prep only high school education leaves the 70 percent of students prey to gangs, crime, drugs, prostitution, and prison. Clearly, these were not the outcomes that school boards intended. All this occurs because of an evil racist practice of 50 years ago. It is time for community leaders to give our governors, mayors, and school boards permission to appropriately educate high school students. It is time for the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Urban League, Hispanic leaders, and Native American leaders to give the country their permission for high schools to appropriately place students into career technical education courses. These community groups need to provide leadership to support career technical education and career academies to overcome the concerns of educators about tracking.

All of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan require their non-college-bound youth to take a program of career technical education. These countries all value career technical education and a highly skilled workforce. The reality today is that you must have a serious skill set to find employment. Without job skills, youth get lost and become prey to negative activities and lives are ruined. Learning job skills constitutes a form of education that the supermajority of youth must have.

Community leaders of African-American, Hispanic, and Native American youth must publicly give their permission for most of their kids to take a program of career technical education. These community organizations have been hell-bent on pushing their high schools to prepare more of their kids for college. This is reasonable because they have been, and continue to be, underrepresented in college graduates. This continues to be an appropriate advocacy. However, it must not be their exclusive advocacy. They must get over tracking and support career technical education for their non-college-bound students. They can no longer support pushing all high school kids into a college prep curriculum. This policy has been, and continues to be, very harmful to the great majority of the students that these community groups specifically want to help. It is time for these community groups to provide guidance and permission to school boards and mayors to support career technical education and career academies.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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