Alliance addresses black youth education issues

Kenneth Brown, an Educational Consultant and professor at Michigan University, speaks to a small crowd on Saturday afternoon about the achievement gap and graduation rate issues of African-American students.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:16 a.m.

Members of the African American Accountability Alliance spent the first day of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend working on an educational charrette, a forum to improve education, especially for black children.

"Our goal is to identify and address the educational problems we have in Alachua County," said Larry McDaniel, president of Focus on Leadership, one of the groups that helped the alliance organize Saturday's charrette.

Teachers, administrators, community leaders and others interested in education gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center to gather information, share ideas and listen to expert speakers while coming up with ways to incorporate black history and better teaching methods into public schools.

The luncheon keynote speaker, Kenneth Brown, a retired University of Michigan professor, has served as a consultant to state and national agencies. His message to the group was that all children can and do learn.

"I tell teachers all the time that it's not about the content. It's about the intent," Brown said. "We are the ones who are failing, not the kids. We know they can learn because kids can recite 13 of those rap songs backwards and not miss a word."

Brown's advice to the group was to work on improving education by approaching it from multiple levels.

At the community level - which includes churches and civic organizations - Brown said there needs to be a celebration of academics.

"I dare you to make academics bigger than sports," Brown said. As an example, he suggested that when a student raised his or her grades from D's to B's, the community should provide the student's family with a month's rent as a reward.

At the school level, Brown's advice was for principals to act as the chief educational officer of their school and to make sure that all teachers teach effectively or leave. Effective teachers, Brown said, are those who love their students and who hold those students to a high standard.

The parental level requires cooperation among families, Brown said. In his list of 10 steps for parents to improve their education, Brown directed parents to let their children's friends and parents know the rules they had established, "And attempt to solicit their cooperation by having their child do the same or not have them obstruct your child from following your rules through teasing, etc. . . "

Other speakers at the daylong session addressed topics like how to recruit and retain minority teachers, current best practices in education and how to infuse black history into public school curriculums.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or

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