by Lachin Hatemi M.D.
I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, the author of many bestselling books, including “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers” and “Blink.” His books are thought-provoking and based firmly on research with a mission to answer tough questions, with a novel approach to sociology. One of the questions raised by Gladwell was about racial disparity in test scores and low high school graduation rates among black students.
In his book “Outliers,” Gladwell asks a difficult question: Why is a great majority of black youth is failing in school? He subsequently proceeds to asks more difficult questions about the same topic, which would garner immediate attention almost simultaneously from both the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP.
Some ignorant people might say, “Maybe black kids are just stupid with low IQs, and they lack intelligence!”
After examining the existing research on IQ results, Gladwell comes back with a very different answer. The studies reviewed by him showed no statistically significant difference in intelligence between blacks, whites and Hispanic kids. They all had similar IQ levels. The problem was a discrepancy in the opportunities provided to black or Hispanic kids.
Gladwell found that the main problem is our beloved summer vacations, a cultural legacy of the previous century. By quoting the research of a John Hopkins sociologist, Gladwell points out that summer vacation is the main handicap for poor black kids. While underprivileged black kids easily can outperform their rich classmates during the academic year, they forget the learned skills and fall behind after a long idle summer break. Most of the white kids from the suburbs, meanwhile, get ahead during summer breaks and improve their scores by attending summer school and continue to learn during summer break.
The academic failure of the black youth was simply the accumulation of educational gaps generated during those summer breaks over multiple years.
What is solution to this problem?
Simple: We should eliminate or shorten the summer break in inner city schools!
This controversial solution to falling test scores is slowly getting the attention from some charter schools. Simply look at the Pioneer Charter School of Science, started by Turkish-born educators in Everett, Massachusetts. Pioneer’s academic year is 200 days, which is 20 days longer than regular public schools’ academic year. Pioneer also provides optional Turkish language classes and summer school for kids to the interested families. Their goal is not just to help students graduate from high school but get them ready for college and the competitive job market.
Pioneer Charter School, with its predominantly African-American and Hispanic student body, has emphasized math and science as a path to college and a promising career. Pioneer’s students outperformed students from neighboring districts and the rest of the state in the statewide averages on this year’s MCAS exams. Compared to districts across the state, Pioneer Charter School is ranked first in the state on the 10th grade English and the Science & Technology/Engineering categories on MCAS.
Another school founded by Turkish-born educators in Buffalo, New York – The Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School (BASCS) – also serves predominantly African American inner city demographics. About 85-90 percent of the students attending BASCS qualify for free lunch. This year, BASCS reached a 91 percent high school graduation rate. This success was a result of long academic year and summer programs. This is a huge success considering that some public schools in Buffalo are facing imminent closure due to outrageously low graduation rates as low as 40 percent.
Already applying the same principles popularized by Gladwell, charter schools will create a paradigm shift within the failing public school system by having shorter summer breaks and longer school days. When the legions of black kids graduating from these Turkish-run charter schools go on to college, they will change their impoverished communities in the most dramatic of ways.
Law schools and medical schools across the nation should be ready to admit these overachieving black kids armed with world-class education given by schools similar to Pioneer Charter School and Buffalo Academy of Science.
Let’s keep our kids in school for the summer and give them the opportunity to catch up with their classmates. When your kids become academic superstars, you will remember all those summer days that you drove your kids to school and feel good about it.