As I reflect on Black History Month and the significant contributions to our nation by black Americans, I am reminded that we still have work to do to provide all students with access to important work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial-literacy education.
According to a U.S. Department of Education report, high school graduation rates are at their highest levels since 1974. During the 2009-10 school year, 78 percent of high school students nationwide graduated on time, an increase from the 73 percent recorded in 2005-06. The report shows that graduation rates were up for all ethnic groups in 2010.
However, while the nation’s overall dropout rate is declining, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan notes that the dropout rate is still “unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino and Native-American communities.” The dropout rate for blacks is 5.5 percent, compared with 2.3 percent for whites and 1.9 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders.
Unfortunately, employers report a lack of proficiency in 21st-century skills among young, new employees. According to ManpowerGroup’s 2013 Talent Shortage Survey, 39 percent of U.S. employers report challenges with filling open jobs. To remain competitive as a nation, the gap between the knowledge and skills needed by employers and the number of available workers who meet those qualifications must be addressed. The best way to do this is to ensure our young people graduate from high school. A student who graduates from high school is more likely to live an independent and productive life, contributing to the economic competitiveness of our country.
Black History Month brings to the forefront the inspiring stories of African-American icons – many of whom overcame immense odds to be successful. The month of February is set aside as Black History Month in order to learn, honor and celebrate the achievements of black men and women throughout history.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s future, and it benefits all of us to make sure future generations are well-educated and prepared for life. Junior Achievement’s work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial-literacy programs provide skill sets necessary for success in the workforce. In addition, as Junior Achievement programs are typically delivered in classrooms by volunteers from the local business community, we provide students with positive role models. At Junior Achievement, we reinforce the value of education through our work every day – for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.
Junior Achievement programs reach more than 10,300 students, or 7 percent of Rhode Island’s K-12 student population. During the 2012-2013 academic year, 70 percent of those programs were in urban and urban-ring school districts. •
Lee Lewis is the president of Junior Achievement of Rhode Island.