Spike Lee, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Rep. Danny Davis (D., Ill.) have a problem with the Academy Awards. Their frustration is understandable in that not one black actor has not been nominated in the four major Oscar categories for the second year in row. But as this controversy plays out, Kay Cole James asks in the WSJ if this is really the problem that needs to be resolved in the black community.
Within blocks of the theater are black teenagers who won’t receive the education they need to achieve a decent life, let alone step onto a red carpet. Nearly one out of every three black high-school students in California fails to graduate on time—or at all. According to the California Education Department, that’s more than 11,000 black students in 2013 alone.
The situation across the country is no less shocking. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s 2015 Report Card, black students are falling far behind their white, Latino and Asian classmates. Only 19% of black fourth-graders are proficient in math compared with 51% of white fourth-graders. Black students’ eighth-grade scores in math are 30 percentage points lower than white students. When it comes to reading, only 18% of black fourth-graders are proficient compared with 46% of white fourth-graders, and the reading gap between black and white eighth-graders is 28 percentage points. The gap is just as big in science, history and geography.
… Is this the problem that our community really needs solved?
What really matters is that black children don’t need, and their futures don’t depend on, more Oscars, writes Ms. James. She argues that Mr. Lee and the Smiths would better serve the black community by focusing their considerable energy and clout on the educational system that is failing African-American children. “It’s academics, not the Academy, that really matter.”
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